As the Covid pandemic and wildfires have raged throughout the Province of British Columbia the crises surrounding overdoses, mental health, homelessness, and substance use disorder in BC have also continued to grow at an alarming rate. No longer are there people who can say they are unaffected by the escalating impacts of these difficult and dangerous situations.
In the heart of BC’s Interior Region one community has reached its boiling point. Pandemic guidelines meant to protect the population have also isolated, polarized and broadened the divide between the residents of Kamloops.
Overdose deaths are at an all-time high and are not just confined to the disadvantaged – pillars of the community and professionals have also fallen prey. Kamloops was stunned with the passing of Christopher Séguin, VP of Advancement at Thompson Rivers University, resulting from an overdose in 2017. However, the frequency of these tragic circumstances is on the rise.
According to the BC Coroners Service (Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths in B.C, 2021) since the beginning of 2020, BC has recorded 2,938 overdose deaths (so far). In comparison, the BC Centre for Disease Control reports 1,951 deaths resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
When looking at the Interior Health (IH) Region of BC the numbers reflect the same cause for concern with deaths due to overdose equaling 479 compared to 245 deaths due to COVID-19 (almost double since the beginning of 2020). Kamloops is amongst the cities within BC that experience the highest fatalities due to overdose. It is also important to note that these numbers do not include overdose fatalities resulting from prescribed medications.
Despite significant increases in subsidized housing within the last five years for vulnerable & marginalized populations, an all-time high of homelessness is also adding to the pressure this community is experiencing. “The City of Kamloops’ 2021 Point-in-Time Count conducted in April 2021, identified 222 individuals experiencing homelessness in the city. The current shelter capacity in Kamloops is 130 beds, leaving more than 90 individuals with no access to shelter on any given night.” These numbers have increased since 2018 when the Point-in-Time Count recorded 201 individuals. People of Indigenous identity were overrepresented among those experiencing homelessness at that time with 53.5% of those who provided information reporting an Indigenous identity.
With this increase in homelessness, whether by coincidence or direct correlation, increases of threats to personal safety, vandalism, and other crimes related to drug use are also on the rise.
In an article written by Kamloops This Week in June 2021, Supt. Syd Lecky is reported as saying, “he believes calls for service and incidents of property crime will increase again next year due to changes that have impacted the effectiveness of policing… He added that social media has increased awareness of property-crime issues… He said factors beyond police control, including charge approval standards in the courts, policy decisions and case law, have impacted policing, noting officers are as frustrated as residents… Lecky said police may arrest somebody up to four times and, if someone is convicted, sentencing other than incarceration is encouraged. Collectively, he said, the changes are impacting police effectiveness. ‘This is why I do believe we’re going to see trends for property crime continue to increase, is we don’t have the ability to hold them accountable like we had before,’ Lecky said, adding he sees the trend increasing until policy changes are enacted.”
Statistics Canada for 2019 (most recent available statistics) recorded that while Kamloops was safer than 19% of the cities in Canada, year over year crime in Kamloops had increased by 26%. At that time Kamloops crime rates were 100% higher than the national average and violent crimes in Kamloops were 50% higher than the national average. The 2019 statistics showed a 1 in 11 chance of becoming a victim of crime for living in this community.
Businesses and livelihoods are being threatened. Families are feeling unsafe. Neighborhood appearances and property values are at risk. The deep sense of community is fracturing. Healthcare and social service organizations are struggling with staff burn-out and policing resources are stretching to the breaking-point with officers also feeling like they are being criminalized themselves.
Traditional media continues to fan the flames for sensational news stories while social media groups once known for rational discourse to discuss these challenges are becoming labelled as hate groups.
Far too many feel their concerns are not being addressed. Dehumanization and misinformation continue to spread through this community faster than the wildfires that have been surrounding it.
These problems stemming from opioids, healthcare, housing, and mental health are very real, but so too are the problems stemming from personal emotions, especially fear, and a break down in healthy communication and understanding.
One question that begs to be asked – How can seemingly opposing groups of people, forming around polarizing issues, be brought together to understand each other, and be made to feel that their voices are being heard? Better yet, how can they be brought together to collaboratively work in Finding A Way Forward?
“If there was a quick fix, we would have fixed it, but this is a problem that is deep-rooted in poverty, lack of housing, lack of employment, chronic mental illness, drug addiction and eventually crime… I would really ask our public to be patient with us and also to be compassionate.” ~ Mayor Ken Christian, in a statement to CFJC-TV July 2021
Mastermind Studios in association with AIMCanada Mentorship Society seeks to facilitate the development and production of a reliable, unbiased, and comprehensive docu-series by giving voice to individuals who have been impacted within the community as well as those who have been working on the front lines to manage these crises.
We believe that the depth and breadth of information written within government and agency reports has been far too vast for people to absorb and fully comprehend. Many of these resources have also lacked the stories surrounding lived experience and the human element that can help with understanding.
Through careful listening, mentorship, documenting and attentive storytelling we will eliminate misinformation, make sense of the information available and help this community find a way forward together as a documented blueprint that other communities may follow and build upon.
Exploring and delivering this project could face difficulty if perceived to be representing any one group more than another. As such, we believe it should not be a direct product of a municipal department, political office, business group, healthcare provider nor social service agency. Any of these being perceived as having a controlling interest would only serve to alienate groups who already feel isolated and unheard.
The experiences and perspectives within the docu-series will engage the audience through character constructs such as: The Struggling Business Owner; The Grieving Parent; The Hand-Cuffed Officer; The Almost Homeless Person; The Street-Wise Hustler; The Threatened Homeowner; The Fatigued Social Worker; The Truth & Reconciliation Seeker; The Medical Expert; The Academic Scholar; The Public Servant; The Frightened Family; The Unaddicted Out-of-Worker; The Compassionate White-Knighter; etc
Can Kamloops shine as an example of how to work towards a better outcome during these crises?