A homeless person sleeps outside with Warmland shelter just over the fence. (Jen Woike photo)

What you said: Are we losing our community to drugs and crime?

Readers weigh in: Are we losing our community to drugs and crime?

It was one of our top-read item this week and it wasn’t even a news story. It was a letter. Former Duncan city councillor Sharon Jackson wrote to the Citizen warning that without big changes to address the drug crisis, Duncan will die.

“We need enforcement, intervention, more detox, job training and affordable housing. All of the above,” she wrote. “But what is being done now is not having an effect. We risk losing our town to a rising wave of addicts and dealers if nothing changes.”

She also noted supporting panhandlers only perpetuates the problem.

The letter elicited a plethora of responses on our website and an even larger discussion on Facebook.

“Publicly share this letter to every social media outlet,” wrote Neris Khyra on the Citizen website. “…show the Mayor of Duncan it’s time to show respect again for the city…treat it as if it mattered…don’t let its reputation fall into tatters…50 years after I grew up there people still laugh it off as ‘Drunken Duncan’…”

Formerly homeless, Chris Cunliffe said on Facebook that “it’s better to give them money than them stealing from us.”

“Do you seriously believe that giving money to panhandlers will stop the rising tide of theft, B&Es and other property crimes?” responded Mark Anderson.

“When I was homeless I panhandled so I wouldn’t have to steal,” was Cunliffe’s reply.

Vocal in the debate, Luke Cross wondered how many other of the more than 100 commenters on Facebook had ever actually been homeless.

“Do any of you have any idea how broken a human being needs to be in order to beg for money? So what if someone make $400 a day panhandling they can’t spend it on rent because nobody will rent to them anyway,” he wrote.

Once homeless as a product of divorce, Cross said “homelessness is a byproduct of a society that doesn’t take care of each other.”

Divorce, job loss, grief, inflation, mental illness, abuse, veterans, drugs, alcohol, whatever the reason, homelessness needs to be addressed, all agreed.

Monica Finn says housing first. Under this model, everyone is given a roof over their heads, then their other issues are addressed.

“I see Luke Cross offering a rebuttal to misinformation. No one is living on the streets because begging pays well — that’s an urban legend that needs to die along with the welfare queen. Will some people lie to get money? Yes. But no one chooses entrenched poverty because it’s a relaxing lifestyle,” she wrote. “You want a solution? Housing First.”

Darold Stockford argued that “addictions are caused by very poor choices for the most part. Whatever the cause of the addictions, however, it is important to arrest the people who are addicted when they break the law and put them into treatment plans. Letting them continue to sleep in their own filth and ignore their suffering as we are is an act of extreme cruelty.”

Cross noted many working Canadians still struggle to pay the bills.

“Homelessness is a symptom of a sick and broken system,” he said.

Former North Cowichan councillor Jen Woike weighed in noting no one on the street in this area needs to ever worry about food.

“Food is available 7 days per week for people who need it. Good food, hot food, one reason I believe that we have the growing problem we have here in the Cowichan region is because it’s ‘a good place to be on the street’ temperate climate (yes it rains), tons of social programs (street school, basket society, women shelter, Warmland, Sunday sandwiches). Generous public (for panhandlers,) police don’t really bother you much if there is no criminal element.”

Woike said “we have a drug problem followed by a housing problem, but the open air drug problem in our community is out of control. The options should be treatment or jail. People who [are] in the middle of drug crises are the norm on our streets. They don’t need bags of socks, free injection sites, camps. They need help. They need intervention.”

Duncan city councillor Stacy Middlemiss said “I think the way to solve this is to stop pointing fingers and start working together.

“Right now there seems to be a lot of opinions floating around but they are from people who don’t specialize in this area,” said the Community Action Team coordinator. “It is absolutely shattering for people like me to read the ignorant and uneducated comments that many people post…but where are those people when we host information sessions? If you aren’t part of the solution, you are just as much part of the [problem].”

Click here to read the debate on Facebook

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