Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Symposium and annual general meeting was held in Peace River at the Chateau Nova March 25.

Hosted by Northern Sunrise Rural Crime Watch Association (NSRCWA), the event attracted 14 different Rural Crime Watch Associations from across Alberta.

NSRCWA Chair Corinna Williams says the symposium is a way for groups from around the province to share information about what is working in their communities to curb rural crime issues.

“Each year a host puts forward their interest to host the symposium and due to the pandemic, this has been three years in the planning,” says Williams.

“This was the first time the symposium was held in our region, and attendance was a little lower due to the travelling distance for the rest of the province’s RCWs.”

The symposium featured presentations by various speakers to address how communities can help individuals, which will in turn help to reduce the rural crime municipalities are experiencing. Speakers discussed homelessness, addictions and mental health issues, and work that is happening in the region to curb issues.

“Rural crime is a huge issue right now, but almost 90 per cent of our detachment’s time is spent responding to non-crime related calls,” explains Town of Peace River Councillor, Rural Mental Health project animator and advocate, and ICare Homeless and Mental Health advocate Marc Boychuk.

“Lots of RCMP time is spent transporting patients under the Mental Health Act. As the number of people experiencing homelessness increases, it is starting to spill over into the more rural areas. People come to the M.D. offices for help and often they are in distress or intoxicated.”

Boychuk says recently people being released from provincial prisons are often left to find their own way back to their home communities. This often forces the person being released from prison to have to hitchhike to get out of the community or leaving them stuck in small rural areas with no resources.

“We need to work together to support the agencies currently trying to help people,” says Boychuk, explaining that by helping individuals we will inevitably reduce the current rural crime rates.

“Our task force is working several angles from advocacy, policy changes, identifying core issues, and other items. We need support workers to help people escape from homelessness.”

Boychuk says addictions also play a huge part in the crime our communities are currently facing.

“A person doing crime to support a $300 per day drug habit will have to commit to $3,000 to $5,000 per month of crime to support that habit if they are unemployed,” he explains.

“People who suffer from mental health disorders or issues who use drugs or substances to try and medicate themselves are often involved in minor crimes such as vagrancy, trespassing, shoplifting, panhandling.”

He explains sometimes people who are experiencing homelessness will commit petty crimes on purpose to get incarcerated so they will get a warm meal, receive medical care, have a warm and safe place to sleep. He says helping people who are experiencing difficult times can help our communities on many levels. He says we have a very passionate community with many kind and wonderful people, unfortunately public perception is sometimes a little different.

“There are some people who have serious mental health issues and some who have none experiencing homelessness in our community,” says Boychuk. “Businesses are being impacted and the negative experiences are starting to become more regular, we need to find people homes.”

Boychuk says there are many support systems that can (or have been) introduced to help curb homelessness and rural crime. These include housing supports, transportation and transitional housing programs, support staff and program funding for the Sagitawa, low-income housing supports, on-site housing advice, advocacy and legal assistance to homeless people at shelters, soup kitchens and other emergency services, among others.

“We are currently trying to raise funds for a mobile outreach team like the one being run in Grande Prairie by the city,” Boychuk says.

“We need to develop more community supports for people with severe and persistent mental illness who are isolated in the community and develop more mental health services for young adults and more accessibility to services for individuals with concurrent disorders.”

Our community can also help to reduce rural crime by helping to support local services that will aid people in complicated situations. If individuals can afford to, Boychuk suggests supporting the local food bank and other agencies.

He adds it helps to communicate with your local town office about concerns and solutions to the issues we’re facing.

Boychuk suggests some small measures individuals can do to help curb crime. He says ensure your vehicles are locked and items are out of sight, make sure you have good lighting around your home and that doors are locked, and then donate clothing or food to local agencies.

“The Sagitawa is overwhelmed some days with people in need,” says Boychuk. “There are many supports here and some agencies have done amazing work at mapping these out. The town office has several types of lists including QR codes to match services to your needs if they are available in our region.”

Both Boychuk and Williams say local groups are working hard to ensure rural crime is curbed and symposiums like this help to share information of what is successful in other communities.

“It was clear by the discussions in the room that the Peace Region is successful with their crime reduction due to the support of many groups and its members,” says Williams.

If you are interested in keeping in the loop of what is happening in our region to curb rural crime, or have questions about what is happening, email nsccrimewatch @gmail.com

By Emily Plihal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 07, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   South Peace News   High Prairie, Alberta
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