Businesses in 100 Mile House met with police and health officials last week to address increasing rates of petty crime and vandalism in the downtown area.
About 30 businesses attended the private meeting, hosted by South Cariboo Chamber of Commerce president Donna Barnett, following reports of an acceleration in crime in the past six to eight months. Attendees included Interior Health’s Dr. Carol Fenton, RCMP Staff Sgt. Svend Nielsen and MLA Lorne Doerkson, who heard concerns of rising homelessness, drug use and crime caused by a small group of mostly chronic offenders.
“I’m extremely concerned about it,” said Doerkson, who represents the Cariboo-Chilcotin. “We see, obviously, that a small number of offenders have done a lot of damage. The focus of this was not on prolific offenders but on crime in general.
“The community banding together is a really good first step in helping the RCMP fight what’s happening there. It’s not just theft but vandalism and other crimes. Some businesses had horrific tales to share.”
The situation has prompted businesses to consider working together to employ a security protection detail to patrol their shops overnight, Barnett said.
The 100 Mile Citizens on Patrol, which had scaled back during the pandemic because COVID protocols wouldn’t allow them to share vehicles, has also ramped up.
Citizens on Patrol organizer Dave Mingo said he is “surprised it has taken so long” for this level of crime to reach 100 Mile House, noting smaller communities further north have been grappling with it for the past decade.
“We’ve been very fortunate in some ways because our community has been somewhat isolated from it,” he said.
Not anymore. Mingo noted there are more people sleeping in cars or underpasses and signs of drug use and needles in Centennial Park and the issue will likely be upcoming at the district council.
“We haven’t had a discussion about it. It’s probably time we do,” he said.
Trudy Mitchell, owner of Ace Hardware, said her business has added laser beams and more alarms, after several people were caught on camera jumping the fence or coming in through the neighbour’s yard to steal items.
“During the day they come in here and steal all the drills,” Mitchell said, adding they have lost about eight drills worth $400 each. “It’s been worse the last couple of months. We’ve got them on camera. The first guy was guarding and another one was stealing.
“We came in here one night and they had stuff stacked up against the fence. We’ve seen them and chased after them but they just run off.”
Staff Sgt. Svend Nielsen encouraged businesses to report any incident, no matter how small.
He noted some businesses said their employees were afraid to take out the trash at the end of the day because “they felt there was a safety risk.
“We need to know what’s happening in our downtown area, just communication more than anything,” Nielsen said.
He noted much of the discussion was around a “small amount of theft and how we are going to deal with it,” as well as drug use.
Fenton was unavailable to speak with the Free Press this week but told the group about Interior Health’s episodic overdose prevention site at the South Cariboo Health Centre and what is being done to reduce harm due to the opioid crisis.
In March, Interior Health told the Free Press that it was creating a permanent space in 100 Mile House for people looking for medication-assisted treatment and safer alternatives to the toxic illicit drug supply.
The new room at the South Cariboo Health Centre was described as a “comfortable, clinical space” located off the main entrance and open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
People can drop in or book a time to see the nurse prescriber, who can provide opioid agonist treatments or reference materials.
100 Mile House has had a nurse prescriber in place for the past 18 months – one of 16 across B.C., who have been working to tackle “the toxic drug crisis from every angle,” according to Interior Health.
Since then, IH nurse prescribers have written more than 450 prescriptions for Suboxone, an important opioid agonist treatment (OAT) medication to support people with opioid use disorders.
In 2021, overdose deaths in the South Cariboo had increased dramatically in 2021, in line with a province-wide trend that resulted in the deadliest year on record for drug toxicity across B.C.,
The local health area of 100 Mile House – which spans north to Lac La Hache and south to 70 Mile – saw a nearly 200 per cent increase from 2020, according to the BC Coroners Service in February.
Fenton told the group that while there were six overdose deaths in 2021, there have been none so far in 2022.
Barnett said more also needs to be done to help people with mental illness.
“We don’t have the resources here that we need now because of the influx of people,” she said. “We have no facilities, it’s really sad. Somebody with mental health issues … they need help, they don’t need a jail cell.”