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Public fears prolific offenders, not housing projects: Minister Eby

Image Credit: Flickr/Government of B.C.

As the province tries to investigate how best to deal with repeat offenders committing property crimes, the housing minister says the problem can be conflated with homelessness and addiction in B.C. cities.

Minister David Eby, who is also the Attorney General, said controversial housing and mental health supports can often stoke fear in B.C. communities. However, much of that fear comes from a small group of people committing a large portion of crimes in B.C. cities.

READ MORE: Finding ways to deal with B.C. prolific offenders 'decades in the making'

"Addressing this issue of the chronic offenders, property crime and disorder downtown, in my opinion, will help us do the work we need to do on mental health and addiction," Eby said. "These are different issues. Related, but they are different and require different solutions."

The province is launching an investigation into how best to deal with prolific offenders who revolve in and out of B.C. courts. The report, which is set to be made public in the fall, is expected to determine what the province should do to deal with offenders who appear undeterred through the corrections and justice systems in B.C.

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People like Kyle Haldorson in Kamloops could be included as people who continue to rotate through the justice system then back on the streets.

Since 2018, he's had nearly two dozen court files in Kamloops, with various criminal charges including theft, assault, uttering threats, causing mischief and breaching probation. Although he's repeatedly in the Kamloops court system, he struggles with serious mental health issues and addiction.

The courts and his family both appear to agree that jail isn't the appropriate place for him, but there are few other options available for him, especially those that include mandatory treatment.

READ MORE: Kamloops mom says justice system not equipped to handle son's addiction, mental health issues

In Kelowna, another repeat offender is responsible for 346 police files since 2016 and has 29 criminal convictions in that time.

The city has upped its RCMP budget by 84 per cent in that time, from 27.9 million in 2016 to $51.4 million in 2022.

Eby suggested that investigators in the upcoming report could explore compulsory care for repeat offenders. There may be a place for B.C. courts to order people to participate in compulsory supports, either through hospitalization or other complex care facilities, he said.

He addressed similar concerns to Kamloops city council earlier this year when discussing crime and how it relates to social housing in the city.

"I think one of the challenges we've faced in Kamloops, but not exclusively... is there are 80% of people who go into supportive housing and that is the level of support they need to be successful and do well in a building," Eby said. "And for the other 15% to 20% of people, it's not enough."

B.C. Housing projects, including shelters and supportive housing, are frequently controversial in Kamloops. Much of the controversy stems from property crimes like vandalism and theft, and the projects are met with backlash no matter the location.

Eby said that minority of people who may set fires, act violently or make "bad decisions" rooted in active addictions can leave the entire supportive housing facility to be blamed for problems within the building or the neighbourhood. This, he said when speaking to council in January, places added pressure on a governing body that is supportive of these projects.

"The next site faces double the challenge as the last one did. So because of that, Kamloops is a big priority for me personally," Eby said. "All these things, I fear, run the risk of costing us social license for opening up supportive housing."

In 13 B.C. cities, just 200 people accounted for 11,000 police files in just one year, which Victoria mayor Lisa Helps used to illustrate how a small number of people are causing a massive disturbance, especially in downtown areas.

If the province can successfully address chronic offenders, Eby believes it will reprieve some of the public's fear around shelters, supportive housing facilities and other social supports across B.C., which are often controversial.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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