Problem of “catch and release” offenders is a hot political issue

Kamloopsians are being terrorized, businesses vandalized and personal property stolen by a small number of people.

What can be done? It will certainly be an issue in the upcoming municipal election in October.

While it’s tempting to blame the homeless for crimes but the opposite is true: some vandals and petty thieves just happen to be homeless.

image: Kamloops RCMP

Some don’t even live in Kamloops but move from town to town.

Such was the case last month when Kamloops RCMP responded to complaints from merchants about thieves making off with shopping carts full of stolen merchandise. During the blitz, police made a number of arrests of men and women wanted in other B.C. cities.

Targeting prolific offenders is one solution but holding them is a problem.

In a letter to B.C.’s Attorney-General David Eby, mayors of the 13 largest B.C. cities told him that the province has failed to stop a tiny number of people from committing a large number of crimes.  And a similar small number of mentally ill make citizens feel unsafe in their communities.

The mayors of some cities said they had 10 to 50 offenders stuck in a “catch and release justice cycle.”

They suggested that more community courts should be created to divert some away from jail time and into treatment.

Many are obviously mentally ill. The parade of desperate humanity is hard to watch. It breaks my heart to my fellow human beings in such a traumatic state – walking down the street yelling at themselves or yelling at others, often lashing out at others.

Mayoral candidate Reid Hamer-jackson has seen the problem up close from his car lot on Victoria Street West. He told me that he knows a number of homeless Kamloopsians by name and fears for their health because they have been banned from shelters.

Hamer-jackson knows what vulnerable street people are going through, having spent some time on the streets of Edmonton.

He often gets up at four in the morning to talk to street people and especially in the dead of winter, to help them find shelter. Hamer-jackson told me that some of these frail addicted beings live on the edge of survival and some have died or are about to die if nothing is done.

Hamer-jackson would like to see treatment centres located in rural areas outside Kamloops like Vision Quest Located outside of Logan Lake, sprawled over 20 acres of land.

Or a treatment centre could be located on city property north of Rayleigh, Hamer-jackson said. Such a area outside the city would allow addicts to be away from bad influences. It might be a hard sell.  When he pitched the idea to one street person, they replied that they didn’t want to be held behind a fence. He replied: “the only ones behind fences will be cows.”

Not all of Kamloops’ homeless are criminal or addicted; they are just trying to get by. With winter gone, homeless camps have been springing up by the river, just a block from my home. When I walk by their camps on a warm spring day, their lives seem idyllic –until I realize they are not on vacation and that homelessness is not an option they choose.