A sign outside a business in Happy Valley-Goose Bay reflects the desperation of residents over recent criminal activity in the Labrador town.Contributed by Sacha Fraser

Original Published on Oct 19, 2022 at 05:40

‘I’ve heard a girl screaming’

By Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Nadine Hillier was in court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Tuesday, Oct. 18, as a witness in the case of a man who is alleged to have broken into her home more than two years ago.

“He used my device left on a sofa to record himself masturbating on my son’s clothes and left the video for me to find,” she said in a message to The Telegram. “The cops have a 100 per cent DNA match to him and it looks like he will walk free again despite this being like his 10th time going up on charges like this.”

Hillier was one of more than a dozen residents of the central Labrador town who responded to a Facebook message posted by The Telegram looking for comment on an escalation in lawlessness that has consumed the town of about 8,000 people.

The problem of “transients” living in the woods and on trails and roaming about town causing trouble has been a concern in Happy Valley for years, but residents say the situation has reached a crisis point in the past month, and some say it’s not just a case of waiting for something bad to happen anymore. 

“People have been murdered, beaten, raped and froze to death,” one man wrote.

It’s not clear whether the suspect in the Hillier home break-in is one of those transients, and the allegations have not been proven in court.

And that reflects the complexity of the problem.

While drugs and alcohol usually play a role, no one can put a finger on why the transient issue continues to grow, and why people seem to be camping outside later into the fall and winter.

Death threats

Almost every night, witnesses hear screams behind their homes, or have to slam on the brakes when a person jumps out in front of their car.

Children and adults risk being accosted or even assaulted in broad daylight. Many have witnessed sexually inappropriate behaviour in public.

Residents say it’s not safe for children to go to local establishments for lunch, or play in playgrounds. A municipal patrol has been set up to protect kids taking a trail from the high school to Tim Hortons.

Homes, businesses and cars have been broken into.

“It is very difficult to put into words the chaos which exists here and how it is making people feel,” said Sacha Fraser, whose family had to hire private security for their local convenience store.

Another convenience store owner says he’s had eight thefts since June, and is losing his regular customers.

Mitch Maidment, owner of Grafter’s Pub, has seen his share of criminal behaviour.

“The other month, a guy … was banging on the door of the pub while the bartender was inside cleaning up, telling her to come out so he could stab her,” Maidment said in a message. “Had one girl the other week ask us to call the cops for her because a man in a dress was trying to beat her up. I, myself, have had a few of them threaten to stab me. At night, I’ve heard a girl screaming out on the bike trail next door that somebody was trying to kill her, but when I went out it was too dark to do anything.”

One thing is clear, says Jackie Compton Hobbs, chair of the Happy Valley-Goose Bay Houseless and Homeless Coalition.

“Public safety needs to be the No. 1 priority.”

Shelter available

The homeless coalition helps place families in permanent or temporary housing, often with the help of the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. (NLHC).

But even Compton Hobbs admits most of the 80 or more people who are living off the grid are not actually looking for a roof over their heads.

“It’s very complex,” she said.

Michelle Kinney, a Nunatsiavut Government member who runs the local Housing Hub shelter, agrees.

“It’s hard to just discuss it without any context,” she told The Telegram.

“There are a lot of discussions happening. There’s discussion around a purpose-built facility for Happy Valley-Goose Bay which would offer shelter spaces, individual apartments, board and lodging, bedsitter kind of arrangements, as well as community supports.”

But Kinney says the transients she sees are not coming for a bed at night.

“We have increased demand at the shelter for services. So, we have a lot of people dropping in during the day for meals, washrooms, laundry, showers, clothing, hygiene supplies … those sorts of things,” she said.

The shelter can accommodate up to 14 people overnight, she said, and any overflow can be referred to NLHC emergency housing, which will pay to put them up in the 68-room Labrador Inn.

Avoidable deaths

Kinney can rattle off a litany of things the province and the community have done for those who refuse to seek shelter. That includes everything from financial outreach to providing rain ponchos and thermal blankets.

But sometimes that’s not enough to keep them safe. Last winter, two people were found dead in separate incidents outside the Housing Hub and the Labrador Inn.

“The individual that perished outside the shelter, had he come to the shelter door that night, he would have had a place to stay. The lady who died at the Labrador Inn had a room at the Labrador Inn, so it wasn’t an accommodation issue.”

Fraser and others say they’ve received a lot of empathy from provincial and municipal politicians, but concrete action has been in short supply.

The Telegram is still trying to arrange interviews with both Innu leaders and provincial government ministers who were assigned to an acute rescue team in June to find short-term solutions to the problem while the bigger picture is being addressed.

No arrangements had been made as of deadline.

George Andrews is the mayor of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.SaltWire Network File Photo

Original Published on Oct 18, 2022 at 05:39

Lawlessness escalates in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Newfoundland

By Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A business owner in Happy Valley-Goose Bay says an escalation in lawless behaviour in the Labrador community presents an immediate need for beefed up police enforcement.

But Sacha Fraser says the ultimate answer to the town’s woes cannot be reduced to any one particular group or any one cause.

“One of the things that I think is a little bit of a mistake or a misleading statement is to kind of frame this as a transient/transiently homeless/homeless issue,” said Fraser, whose family owns a convenience store in the town. “There are certainly individuals who don’t have a fixed address, and would have those challenges, but the larger issue now is the larger number of individuals that don’t necessarily fit that particular profile that are living in the trails and in the woods within town limits.”

The phenomenon is not new.

The town has been having issues with a growing transient population for several years. The council has petitioned the provincial government for assistance, saying the problem goes beyond the municipality’s scope and abilities to address.

This year, the province responded with funding to provide an extra 12-hour RCMP patrol unit per day, something the mayor said will help matters, but not serve as an ultimate solution.

“We have to have a security patrol on the bike trail between the high school and Tim Hortons because of some of the interactions that have happened,” Mayor George Andrews told The Telegram Monday, Oct. 17.

“We realize that enforcement is not going to fix this particular transient/homelessness issue, but what we’re concerned about is the escalating nature and the amount and now the large groups of individuals.”

Andrews said there are about 80 people living transient lifestyles in the region, and the number of break-ins and other criminal activities has increased.

Some are marauding in groups of a half dozen or more, he said.

“Our community is in a tinder(box) kind of condition, that I’m afraid somebody’s going to be hurt,” he said, adding that he fears the kinds of confrontations that may occur when people trespass on private property.

Near misses

A Facebook group called Concerning Happy Valley/Goose Bay has lately been rife with complaints from residents, including a couple of near misses happening at night when people deliberately or unwittingly jump out in front of moving cars.

“It’s very difficult to see individuals and to be able to stop at short notice,” said Fraser.

She said her family has had to hire security for the store, which has become one of the businesses on the front lines of the problem.

They’ve had to deal with theft in broad daylight, aggressive panhandling of customers, verbal abuse and threats toward staff, she said.

“We’ve had multiple people that had to be removed from our property and then banned from coming back. We’ve had fights break out on our front steps that have moved into the vestibule of the establishment.”

But the fundamental issue is safety, she said.

“One of the barriers to dealing with this issue is that it has become a Team A vs. Team B, Group 1 vs. Group 2 or 3, and I think if we kind of all take a step back and see this is a very serious public safety issue — some would say a crisis — then it’s not at all helpful to try to pigeon-hole people or lay blame on one group or another.”

Early last year, Labrador Affairs Minister Lisa Dempster announced the province would look at building a new shelter in the central Labrador town based on the Gathering Place in St. John’s.

This past spring, an acute response team consisting of the premier, select cabinet ministers and the mayor was formed to try to tackle the issue head-on.

The Telegram is attempting to arrange interviews with Dempster and with John Abbott, minister responsible for housing.

Fraser described a meeting with Dempster and other business leaders in June as “disappointing at best.”

As an illustration of how housing is not the only problem, two people who died last winter — Lukie Karpik and Frederica Benuen — were found just outside local shelters, the Housing Hub and the Labrador Inn, the latter serving as an overflow for the former.

Both had rooms available for them, but never got as far as the door.

“As mayor, I don’t want to see anyone get hurt, and I sure as hell don’t want to see anybody succumb to weather,” Andrews said.

The Telegram will continue pursuing this story in the coming days.

This item reprinted with permission from   The Telegram   St. John's, Newfoundland

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