Daily patrols have been hitting the streets of downtown Chilliwack since May.
The Progress joined the patrol members on a two-hour walkabout early Friday morning with RCMP, City of Chilliwack Bylaw Enforcement, Griffin Security and Allegiance 1 Security, to see what’s up.
The overriding goal and purpose of the street patrols is presenting a “unified approach” that is visible, said Chilliwack RCMP Supt. Deanne Burleigh.
“It’s to ensure that the citizens, the business owners of the city, know that the bylaws and laws are being enforced,” she said. “It’s not illegal to be homeless; it’s not illegal to be addicted; it’s not illegal to have a mental health issue — but the crime around all of that is illegal.”
For many citizens, business people and home owners, it’s the utter lack of respect shown by many on the street that’s so galling. The number of homeless tripled in recent years.
The stolen bikes, smashed windows, the garbage, the feces — are still in evidence.
But the number of those living rough seems to have decreased in the downtown specifically, maybe with some drifting over to the south side from Chilliwack proper.
At 7:30 a.m. on a Friday morning, there are surprisingly few homeless people hanging around, but those who are seen by the patrol group in uniform, all get a friendly “Hi, how are you doing?”
Most know the drill by now.
“Some of these guys, we’ve done so much for, to try to get them off the streets,” said Brian Goldstone, head of Griffin Security. “You just bang your head, we’ve had some successes. But not often.”
But there are those who won’t seek help.
“They have to be ready. You can’t take them into treatment if they’re not ready,” said Supt. Burleigh.
Discussions are ongoing with Fraser Health about the number of residential treatment options.
“So it’s just been a combined effort from everyone in the city,” she said.
Early on in the patrol they confiscated every shopping cart on the street and returned them to the stores.
On this morning, they are stopping everyone they see riding a bike and not wearing a helmet. Some of the serial numbers are called in to see if they’re stolen.
“Our biggest problem is they come up to us at night. They are soaking wet or they have just been beaten up,” said Goldstone about those who do seek help.
Especially in the middle of the night, when there’s no help to be had, it’s hard.
“There is nowhere to take them at night. I can’t say, ‘OK it’s Friday and we can do something Monday.’ It’s too late by then.”
There has to be a willingness to go through the intake process, which can require patience, and that often isn’t there.
Several have been successfully brought into treatment.
“It just takes the facility and the properly-trained people,” Goldstone said. “We need to be able to drive them there, drop them off and there you go.”
In the meantime, the downtown patrols continue a few times a day.
Some have been wondering what possible impact the very visible patrol effort by uniformed personnel could be having.
Is it making a difference? If so, what does that look like?
“What we’ve seen is a little bit of a transition towards respect among some of the homeless people,” answered Supt. Burleigh. “They are cleaning up after themselves, they know what time they have to be out of the parks, they know what time the tents have to come down.
“On the other side of the coin, some have dispersed from the downtown core, and they are moving to other areas, which we are also patrolling, to make sure that that respect increases.”