My wife and I bought an inner city apartment block and moved in beside it in 2002. I figured that my recently attained degrees in International Development and Conflict Resolution would help me make a difference. Indeed I poured my soul into renovating that apartment block making it a nice place to live with dirt cheap rent and zero bed bugs. The first few years the local hardware store sent me Christmas cards because I spent so much money on renovations. And I did most of the work myself to extend the amount that could be accomplished with the money I did spend. Let me tell you I worked hard.
But we were confronted with lots of crack houses – 9 within eyesight of my property. For those of you who have never lived beside a crack house let me explain. Crack houses are typically run by drug selling and prostitution enabling gangs. There is a book entitled “Indians Wear Red” by Jim Silver et al that documented confessions of one of these street gangs – absolutely gut wrenching horrors of depravity. Well my family got to experience what it was like to live beside these houses. We witnessed open prostitution, I could not walk 3 blocks without being propositioned for sex, hundreds of drug addicts would attend the houses looking for drugs, Johns would prowl the neighborhood, and street gangs with full colours would make open drug deals with large bags of powder behind my house. The police did nothing. On one occasion we witnessed a young woman writhing in drug withdrawl agony on the front yard of the crack house and no one helped – she had no money for drugs and was too strung out to turn another trick to get more. One kid was shot to death in a drug gang war across the street from our home. The next few weeks the gang members of the crack house in front my house hid beside my house to avoid being shot by the crack house rivals behind my home. We watched as they ran across the street like a military tactical squad. I had a house full of little kids. And just when you thought you had already witnessed the ultimate of human depravity we would see something even worse. Such is the life living beside a crackhouse. Reading “Indians Wear Red” infuriated me.
From a business perspective the toughest challenge was all the petty crime that went along with the above. Young women prostitute but young men steal. Anything that was not bolted down was stolen to pay for drug habits. The hundreds of addicts that attended the crack houses caused massive mayhem. Some of my tenants had cars and the windows were constantly being smashed to rummage the ashtray for coins. My tenants are the working poor and those broken windows were incredible hardships. So I parked my car in the worst spot on the parking lot to take some of the pressure off my tenants. One summer my windows were smashed 3 times. Businesses would have constant break ins.
The result was many businesses moved away and many of the responsible families followed. The houses that were sold were bought by folks attempting to start their own rental empire and typically added to the neighbourhood problems by housing the addicts which, in turn, caused more crime. Of course this causes downward pressure on housing prices and I bought my 2100 square foot house for $13,000! Who wants to live beside a crackhouse?
But starting in 2003 we got the Safer Communities Act – it was a godsend. They set up cameras in my apartment building and home and documented the traffic. All that was required was to document that a property had traffic resembling a crack house and it could be shut down and boarded. It only took 2 or 3 years and the neighbourhood changed radically. I wasn’t pestered for sex as often, the traffic to the houses subsided, and the crime fell through the floor. We actually had a normal neighborhood! When I invented Canada’s first bed bug heating trailer ten years ago I would get maybe 1 break in attempt per year. Amazing. And for 10 years I operated my trailers with very few problems.
In the last few years I noted a steady uptick in discarded needles and the crime crept up again. I looked for the crackhouses but could not see obvious sign. I am now getting on average 2 break in attempts on my trailers per week. Given that I have customer’s valuable belongings in the trailers I found that statistic disconcerting. Trailers can not be armoured like a home. If you did attempt to armour a trailer it would be too heavy to pull. So I am stuck. I will have to close the heating portion of my business.
So I did some investigation as to what was happening. Granted I don’t understand the newest outbreak as well as I did the crack house version but this is what I learned so far. I am open to correction if you can provide the documents. 2 years ago the federal government made certain prescription opioids much more difficult to access. So the addicts switched to injectable meth. Meth causes people to stay awake for a week at a time and they wander around day and night looking for stuff to steal to get their next fix. A spike in HIV and Hep C was noted because of shared needles so the governments decided to provide harm reduction with free needles and other drug paraphernalia. A large harm reduction station was created a few blocks from where I live and addicts from a broad collection area are encouraged to go there to receive free services. The addicts are often homeless because meth addiction does not lend itself to paying rent so they set up homeless camps within a block of the new centralized “harm reduction” center. You can, on any day of the week, see contraptions set up by these homeless folks on the sidewalks in front of the local businesses. The police collude with the harm reduction center to not apply the existing vagrancy laws to the detriment of the businesses. Every once in a while the homeless push it a bit too far (whatever that means) and the police make them move along to another location down the street.
My problem is that the meth fuelled crime instigated by bringing all the drug addicts to one spot has a lot of similarities to the problems caused by the crackhouses. As a result a very valuable part of my business is forced to shut down. I am sure I am not alone and other businesses will soon close as well. And responsible families will follow shortly thereafter as no one wants to be subject to endless crime and Hep C needles. My kids actually have found discarded needles on their school playground! And wouldn’t you know the harm reduction center is across the street from the school. Who could have guessed that meth heads would throw their needles into the school yard across the street? Good thing we are reducing harm! Welcome back to the Spence neighbourhood in 2002 – the crack house capital of Canada.
It is disappointing to have poured my soul into this neighborhood for 15 years only to see it revert back to ghetto via government harm reduction policy. I could fight the crack houses tooth and nail to the benefit of my hard working minimum wage earning tenants but what can I do against government sanctioned “harm reduction?” If I stand up for the vast majority of the folks living here who earn low incomes, work hard, and mind their own business I am a nazi, racist, homophobe who should mind his white priviledge. On the other hand housing will become more affordable again – except no one but the meth/crackheads will want to live here.
And then the harm reduction folks will come to me looking for free bed bug advice.
June 27, 2018 update: The harm reduction folks have denied any responsibility for the approximately 200 people with backpacks filled with bolt cutters and prybars wandering down my back lane daily. They stated that their organization has been providing these similar services for 20 years and therefore any crime related issue is not related to them. Except, until very recently, injection drug use in Winnipeg was miniscule. Their denial is disingenuous as serving a handful of injection drug users per day is very different than serving hundreds. I find it darkly amusing as the harm reduction head dude bemoans the massive increase in damage the addicts cause in his own building but sees no correlation with increased crime in the community. Buck passing on steroids.
Various churches that have offered food bank and related services for years have also been inundated with the addicts. One nearby Church expressed their virtue by stating they served addicts from rich areas that had no addict services. Nice – bring all the addicts from the entire city to one place. What could go wrong?
Another nearby Church allowed homeless addicts to camp out on their lawn. The result was complaints from the nearby residents that had their BBQ stolen that was now prominently featured on the Church lawn. The Church eventually relented and asked the addicts to move.
I have surveyed a number of business owners from other areas of the city and they had no clue about the meth issues. The police state the problem is located all across the city but my investigations show the issue is localized. Let me ask the following questions: Why would homeless addicts only wander poor areas of the city? Why not break into garages in wealthier areas with better stuff? Why camp out only on Church lawns in the inner city? Why not camp out in parks in wealthy areas? The answer lies in police response in wealthy areas. Homeless addicts are harassed / arrested in wealthy areas but ignored in my hood. It appears certain areas of the city are considered expendable.
The police also ignore all property crime as evidenced by their 5% solve rate for reported crime. From an experience perspective I would concur – there is no police response to property crime in my hood. As such the addicts are free to wander my hood with impunity. As far as I can figure the powers that be have focused the meth crisis in narrow sacrificial areas of the city. The addicts are then free to steal to their hearts content from local residents and businesses which allows the addicts to survive with minimal public dollars expended. And the vast majority of the city is spared from the addict predations.
The whole thing appears to be well planned. Push the addicts to certain areas with selective enforcement of laws and then provide free stuff in the unfortunate designated areas. And then virtue signal if anyone complains. I wonder what would happen if I virtuously handed out free stuff, including needles, beside the mayor’s kids’s school? I could even advertise the new area as having nicer (and more abundant) stuff to steal as a bonus for coming!