Businesses asking city for help dealing with society’s vulnerable

The first of a three part series on the growing number of people with mental health and addiction issues frequenting downtown Trail.

The inner city has become an epicentre for people with serious mental health and addiction issues, says a Trail business owner.

His concern, when he speaks on behalf of the Downtown Trail Business Group (DTBG), is the lack of accountability and resources available to meet the needs of a growing number of mentally ill and addicted people frequenting downtown streets.

“Trail cannot bear the responsibility because the province isn’t giving us resources,” said Daniel Haley. “All we have happening here right now, is a band-aid.”

The Trail Times has been approached by members from all sectors of the community in the last year, asking to shed light on what many perceive as a growing number of mentally ill and addicted individuals relocating to the city. Generally, concerns are voiced that newcomers with serious mental illnesses are not being adequately managed by community outreach.

With only anecdotal data, the Trail Times is asking various community services, city officials and Interior Health to provide some facts about the roles each entity plays to manage those with ongoing afflictions.

This first report centres around a letter the Downtown Trail Business Group addressed to city council asking for support to deal with an apparent increase of people with mental health and/or addictions and related nuisance complaints in the downtown core.

Daniel Haley, president of the group, spoke to the Trail Times on its behalf giving a firsthand account of what he witnesses on a daily basis.

“I always refer to the saying, ‘it takes a community to raise a child,’” he began. “And how I finish that is I say, ‘it takes a community to care for people needing help in the community.’”

He maintains that once people are stabilized through psychiatric services at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital (KBRH), they should be returned to their home base of Rossland, Castlegar, Salmo and beyond, and not “dumped” in Trail.

“This (Trail) is their new home because they are put down here because of cheap housing and there are people who will put up with them,” he said.

“But I ask, is it really better to have them in a halfway house until there is a place like the Groutage apartments to stick them in? It’s a hole. Filthy and very substandard.”

Haley gave a few accounts of the many experiences he’s had living and working in downtown Trail.

“We were at a belly dancing performance in the KP Hall,” he explained. “In comes Beats Brad and starts yelling right in the middle of the dance and raises a ruckus.”

This particular individual frequents downtown and is often escorted from the stores, says Haley, who that night, ushered him from the hall.

“No one knew what they should do,” he added. “Because they were all scared.”

Haley also stresses that the problem is not gender-related.

“This is another strong point. I am here on my own and at least three times I had to phone a female to come into my store and be here with me. There was a female with mental health issues who would not leave and I felt absolutely threatened, so I called a female friend. I want people to know it goes both ways.”

KBRH is the only regional hospital in the West Kootenay that provides psychiatric services, so it’s a given that people within the city, surrounding communities and outside areas will come to Trail for mental health/addiction medical care.

The Greater Trail RCMP detachment was called out 79 times this summer for related incidents, says Sgt. Darren Oelke, noting police files don’t accurately reflect cases related to mental illness.

“We get a wide variety of calls,” he explained. “It could be someone hallucinating and needing help, someone suicidal, a call about a person acting strange or even panhandling.”

Police are very familiar with the Groutage apartments he confirmed, saying lower rent in Trail draws people from surrounding communities such as Rossland.

“But when you have a psychiatric facility, people needing help will come here,” he said. “A positive is we have a great working relationship with mental health services. It’s not a police matter, but we work to get the right resources to get in contact with the people.”

While the downtown businesses do band together and help people down on their luck or homeless, with food and warm clothes, those are not the individuals the group is addressing.

“All the bleeding hearts have to realize that this place (downtown apartments) is 10 times worse than places like Riverview,” said Haley. “There should be a nice, safe, outreach facility running 24/7 so when that person is well enough, they go back to their own communities and have people who know them, take care of them.”

Someone has to speak up and say the province needs to step up to the plate and realize this can’t be downloaded onto our community, Haley added.

“It’s destroying Trail and holding Trail back from any kind of growth.”

Trail council discussed the group’s letter during the Aug. 17 meeting, with one councillor sharing his personal experiences with downtown Trail disturbances, and another asking about the DTBG itself.

“They are an ad-hoc group who have the interest of our downtown at heart,” said Trail Mayor Mike Martin. “I think we owe it to them and the city to use this opportunity to work with other groups and facilitate a session.”

First, Trail officials are requesting facts and solid examples of how the matter is impacting downtown activities. “We should move forward and coordinate a session with other bodies in town who may have firsthand information,” the mayor concluded.

“We need facts, and to meet with mayor and councillors from other communities, and work towards getting traction and having someone listen to these concerns at the UBCM. Because, this is not just a local issue.”