I Need to Vent

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What to do? I was having difficulty coming up with a topic for this week’s article. Although I am rarely without something to write about, the reality was that I was torn about whether or not to dive into a subject that I know will create some controversy. I attempt to use this platform of a weekly column to empower people to positive change, but sometimes, I just need to vent. My need to vent wins out, this time.

I read an article in our local paper this week about crime in the downtown core of our community. The undertone of the article was that the Mayor felt that the police, with their 27 million dollar annual budget, should be doing a better job of curbing crime in the downtown area.

As our family has owned a building, right in the heart of downtown, since I was an early teen, and my office is currently located in this building, I was keen on reading further on the matter. I proceeded to read comments and decided to comment on the article myself.

Another media source also wrote about the matter and I commented there as well. Several replies and comments later, I was right into it. I was ignited by the topic and felt that I had to speak out.

I must say that I am quite happy with our new Mayor. I have been following his decisions, his action steps, how he presents himself and the way he is projecting as a leader, in a positive way. On this matter, I was not so agreeable and felt that, at least from the article, the comments were short sighted.

Although increased police presence is always a nice idea and conveys to the public that at least an effort is being made, the problem of crime in any city goes much, much deeper than adding patrol cars or foot patrols to the enforcement plan.

Crime is a complex matter that is more reflective of significant social issues and cannot be solved with greater enforcement alone. The problem requires the political will and a significant, focused plan for change.

For those who may not be aware of my background, I was a police officer and a social service worker, with experience dealing with Children’s Aid Society, John Howard Society, Operation Springboard with youth involved with the law, The Soup Kitchen Community Centre, Pauline’s Place Youth Shelter, Sault Ste. Marie Community Housing Hubs and more.

I also did some of my university studies in criminology, at Lake Superior State University, towards my degree. I have thoughts from the perspective of both a police officer and from client support in social services and crime is an indication that we need to make some better decisions, as a community.

When I ran for mayor in 2010, I sat with a higher up who was employed with the city, discussing how our social issues were problematic and only getting worse. In a polite and politically correct way, I received the response that these matters were not a concern of the municipal level of government because social issues are handled at the provincial level. I walked out of that meeting realizing exactly why we have a problem.

At one point, 25% of our population was living below the poverty line, our unemployment rate was well above the provincial average, there was a two-year waiting list for affordable housing, a two-year waiting list for subsidized daycare, an eight-month waiting list for sexual assault counselling, 50% of new births were coming from those living below the poverty line and emergency room hospital visits were dominated by mental health issues, addictions and what was termed our ‘at risk’ children.

How can these issues not be a problem of the municipal government? My understanding is that the funding for Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program still comes from the provincial government but it has been downloaded to the municipal government to administer. Distributing cheques should not be the extent of Municipal government involvement in social issues.

Most of the social programs that address the root causes of crime (such as poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, mental health issues, housing issues, etc.), operate by donations or grant funding. These not-for-profit and charitable agencies must apply, do fundraisers and constantly seek ways to keep their doors open. Employees are often on contracts or part-time, since funding runs out annually and there is no guarantee new funding will be received.

Agencies must operate on shoe string budgets, pay lower wages to employees, turn away clients or keep waiting lists that are unacceptable, on so many levels. This IS a municipal government problem and if we truly want to see a reduction in crime, then there needs to be the will, a decision and a concrete plan for how to eradicate the primary things that cause crime, in the first place.

There was a Toronto Star article titled, ‘Tough on poverty, tough on crime’ that stated, ‘ While all those Canadians who live beneath the poverty line are by no means associated with criminal activity, almost all those in Canada’s prisons come from beneath the poverty line. Less than 10 per cent of Canadians live beneath the poverty line but almost 100 per cent of our prison inmates come from that 10 per cent’.

Since there is no quick solution to crime, poverty, our current unemployment rate, mental health issues, drug and addictions issues, etc. it doesn’t mean that we don’t start somewhere. Certainly we can increase police patrols in an attempt to curb crime; however, in the long term, that is only a Band-Aid.

If our Mayor is truly interested in the significant reduction in crime, our municipal government needs to make a decision to take the lead and make a plan to invest long-term core resources and a permanent stake in partnering with social programs and agencies who have taken it upon themselves to address our social issues and the root causes of crime.

Once the municipal government is seen as the ‘lead’ umbrella organization, taking a firm stance that affordable and supportive housing, poverty, addictions programs, mental health programs, literacy programs, youth enrichment programs, etc. are very much a concern of the municipal government to do something about, then we will see change in our community.

If we allow this cycle to continue, without significant intervention, things will only get worse. If we decide to implement change now, there is hope. This city is not so large, that this is an impossible task. We are not a massive metropolis, we are a small community. Widespread change is doable and possible.

We can be creative, think outside of the box, nurture our citizens (focusing strongly on children and youth) and then become a leading community that decides to take a stand to thrive, in all areas.

If your vision is for a year, plant wheat. If your vision is for ten years, plant trees. If your vision is for a lifetime, plant people.’ ~ Chinese Proverb