Tents set up under the Trail Skywalk earlier this spring. Photo: Trail Times

Tents set up under the Trail Skywalk earlier this spring. Photo: Trail Times

Message from Concerned Trail Citizens: ‘A Necessary Response’

” … if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.”

Submitted by Concerned Trail Citizens members

We are writing this letter to voice some of our concerns about our beautiful province, and in particular, our beautiful city.

We believe that some of these concerns/problems have been happening for years, but in a less visible manner. The problems have grown though, especially in the last year. The problems are now very visible, an ‘epidemic’ so to speak, and we believe they cannot be ignored.

Most of us were born and raised in the Kootenay region of British Columbia, and have lived and worked in the small city of Trail for over 40 years. We chose Trail because the community offered us meaningful employment in our chosen professions, attainable home ownership, for both single and double incomes, a stable economy, plentiful indoor and outdoor activities, readily available health care, an exemplary school system, and, best of all, a physically gorgeous environment.

The people of Trail are, in general, law abiding and family oriented with a good work ethic.

They make good neighbours.

For us, Trail has been a solid and safe place to live.

We do admit that Trail did have a contingency of ‘troubled’ residents with difficulties such as mental health issues, addiction problems, unemployment, and homelessness. But the percentage of these people was low, and with the well-run support services, they managed to live alongside the mainstream in a relatively amicable and respectful manner.

However, in the last year, things have changed.

A large number of people have turned up in Trail. They seem to have many and varied issues related to addictions, mental and physical health, unemployment, and homelessness.

They have set up encampments on the edges of town and under our two bridges. They ‘hang out’ in our small downtown core. Several are unkempt, loud, profane, and intimidating.

They use their substances in plain view, as well as using sidewalks, alleyways and door wells to dump their drug paraphernalia, and to urinate, defecate, and have sexual relations. They often carry makeshift weaponry in the form of knives, sabres, and the like.

Gunshots have been heard in several areas and fires have been set.

In different residential neighbourhoods there are now houses where these new people have “taken over.” An example is a residence in one of our areas. Within a month of one newcomer “staying over for a few days” two of three of the original tenants were gone and newcomers had moved in.

To our knowledge, they have never paid rent or utilities.

They have attempted to steal utilities from their immediate neighbours, who have since moved away. By the very steady stream of short- term ‘visitors’ we are assuming that they are selling drugs. Once or twice weekly a pick-up truck comes by and the tenants load it up with (we presume) stolen property and take it away.

These people took over a local residence about a year ago. The change neighbours have seen in that dwelling over the past year is quite remarkable. The residents have become quite organized. Their small yard, once scattered with a long list of things from stoves to garden tools, is now cleared and neat. In the beginning they walked or drove older, rather dilapidated vehicles, mostly packed to the windows with some sort of wiring, scrunched up tents, or just ‘stuff.’

Previously, the small truck was loaded with smaller articles such as garden hoses and equipment, hand and power tools and the like. Now they are driving newer vehicles and the truck is loaded with electric bikes, lawn furniture, and household appliances. License plates are frequently switched between vehicles, and the ‘tenants’ move from house to house.

The above-described changes have been hugely shocking to our previously peaceful and safe small town.

As a result of the influx of these people the atmosphere of Trail has changed. What used to be a friendly active connected small city is shut down, and not just because of the COVID virus.

People don’t or only rarely shop downtown, or stop and chat with neighbours, or go for walks or hang out in the park. We follow the COVID protocol and thus are not afraid of the virus. But we are afraid of needles and syringes on the sidewalks and in the parks, of being accosted or attacked either physically or verbally by one of these newcomers, of our property and valuables being stolen if we do leave our homes, or of being shot or stabbed.

We are afraid of the potential for fires, either purposely lit downtown or in the surrounding mountains and forests from one of their encampments. Primarily, we are afraid of the city crime these newcomers have brought with them.

We do understand that this phenomenon is happening in small towns, cities, and villages throughout B.C. and, undoubtedly, Canada. Like COVID, this ‘homeless crisis’, and all it entails, is a pandemic as well. We are saddened that most Canadian citizens are having their feeling of safety disrupted and/or destroyed by the behaviour and activities of fellow citizens. We very strongly believe that the federal, provincial, and municipal governments need to work together to develop a plan to gain control of this situation like they have with COVID. They need to create a workable plan to help this population change their current life path or to at least minimize the negative impact they are having on those around them.

The homeless have complex and intermixed issues that need to be addressed in an organized manner. Science based evidence suggests that most of these issues cannot be addressed until the person has stable shelter. Once stable shelter is achieved, the rest (almost) naturally follows. It is much easier to see a doctor/counsellor/psychiatrist, obtain employment, schooling, or training, maintain a job, etc., from a stable home.

When considering this issue it is helpful to consult the theories put forward by Abraham Maslow, a psychologist from the 1940s. It has been called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and is depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid form. The levels move from physiological to safety, to love and belonging, to esteem, and finally to self actualization. Maslow suggested that, starting at the bottom level, with physiological needs, an individual must complete that level before moving up to the next. What this means is that a person needs to meet most of his physiological needs, such as food, shelter, warmth and rest before s/he is motivated to move on to the next level, which is safety. The safety need includes order and predictability in one’s life.

The homeless population with its complex issues is greatly affected by the lower two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Until these needs are addressed, this population will be unable to move on effectively. They will continue their present behaviour, affecting mainstream, taxpaying citizens own safety needs. Any plan the government formulates must be created to help this population move towards becoming mainstream, tax-paying citizens themselves, rather than a plan that enables them to continue their current behaviour.

Using the levels of the hierarchy, especially the first two, helps direct the plan. In order to motivate movement to the next step, physiological needs must be met. This means stable housing, not a first- come, first-serve shelter. A shelter is a good start though. A way of saying ‘hello’, if you will. It would be helpful if a bed at a shelter is contingent upon certain behaviours. For example, staying at the shelter a second night is contingent on the person having seen a staff member that can facilitate more permanent housing and the supports that are necessary to make that a success.

When the housing and concurrent supports are being addressed, when the person is settled in, with adequate finances for food, furniture, clothing, etc., the next level in the hierarchy can be planned. This is the need for safety and security. The individual has to work to eliminate the chaos in their life- to develop some order and predictability. This is a time when the person, with support, considers employment, further education, or volunteerism, counselling or support groups, leisure activities, etc. Structure and a regular routine contribute a great deal to stabilizing a life. And thus Maslow’s Hierarchy can be followed to develop a plan for this group in our society. A good philosophy for how to approach this section of our society is, ‘Don’t judge, teach and help.’

Thank you for reading this rather unwieldly letter. We hope that you will take our thoughts, feeling, and suggestions into consideration. We strongly believe that ignoring this problem will not result in it going away. Any or all action steps will have an effect. And that effect, however small, can only be helpful.

One suggestion, if this letter raises personal indignation or passion, write a letter expressing your thoughts and suggestions and send it to our municipal government or to the appropriate ministries in our provincial or federal governments. All addresses are available on-line.

Remember what we ignore, we empower and if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.

John D’Arcangelo, Margie Crawford, Patty Crain, Kathryn Oliphant, Terry Brennan, Bruce Taylor.

City of TrailOpinion