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PHOTOS: On the front lines of homelessness downtown with Prince George RCMP

Prince George RCMP members help with the homeless each morning

Prince George RCMP have an up-close view with homelessness in the city, which they showed members of the media this morning (Sept. 26). 

PrinceGeorgeMatters travelled with Cpl. Kurt Chapman for three hours to see what happens in the morning before work hours begin. 

Chapman started at the Prince George detachment in 2001.

During the ride-along, alleyways were the most canvassed areas, which is the same most days before bylaw services of Prince George come in the morning and clean up.

The Ramada Hotel area and St. Vincent de Paul on Second Avenue downtown both see a larger gathering, which Chapman correlates with other residents.

"The issue with St. Vincent de Paul is they cater to everybody," Chapman said. "So there are lots of families that come down here and we found there is congregations of people camping and stuff, drug trade flourishes and the people community services are meant for are afraid to go. They're intimidated." 

The units that go out in the morning have a team of roughly five.

"If we have five working during the day, it's pretty good," explained Chapman, who is also the Prince George RCMP's Supervisor of Downtown Safety Unit. "But, because people are off, holidays and whatnot, sometimes we're down to three or sometimes we're down to two."

But it can be challenging, with Cpl. Chapman stating there are close to 40,000 police files a year. 

A homeless camp was one of the first stops.

The location is a regular spot for RCMP to visit each morning as occupants are told to leave almost every morning. 

There were numerous bikes at the site, with one having registration with the detachment, which made it easier to search who the owner was.

Others were laying around, however, without any registration, police don't have anything to go off of in proving the bikes are stolen.

This is why the Prince George RCMP have asked people to sign up for the 529 Garage program, where their bike is registered with the city and RCMP which gives you more of a chance of getting your bike back.

"We don't know what's going on any given time, in the city," Chapman added. "It's a busy city and it's just we can't be on every corner all the time, but we do our best to get to every call."

Another stop included a check-in on two other officers on patrol after both made arrests. 

A drug deal in progress had taken place outside of St. Vincent de Paul. 

The buyer had warrants for his arrest and a prohibition of having weapons, which were found at the time.

The seller was arrested, but Chapman explained he would most likely be released due to evidence having to be analyzed. 

Officers know many on the street by name and their story/history.

There are some that are extremely well-known to officers due to the drug trade and other incidents.

Police will stop and check on many they see, with some being regulars and just chat with the officer to see how they're doing.

"This store owner here, she gets a lot of issues," Chapman explained after pulling up to a sidewalk downtown. "People camping in front and everything like that. Probably part of it is that she has a carpet there [right in front of the door] so people look for any sort of warmth. It's really frustrating for her." 

Chapman also stopped when another officer was speaking with two men while holding a large, long knife.

The man had told the officer he was using it for hunting, but it was confiscated.

The main age group that Cpl. Chapman sees when dealing with the homeless right now appears to be 20, or a little bit younger, to roughly 40 years old. 

"It's a hugely complex issue," added Chapman. "We do what we can and there are so many different agencies involved for instance with each person. The agencies in town that have a hand, we try to help them try to deal with people. So we're just a small component, a little piece of the whole puzzle."

There are some times where people-police encounters are aggressive, but Chapman says another part is many don't take their medications as prescribed or required. 

Police also understand that each person(s) and their situation is unique while also keeping in mind they are also human beings and aren't the people many think they may be.

"We see that everyday," said Chapman. "There's somebody's son or daughter, for the most part, all have families and the families are going through lots and trying to deal with it. It's sad."

He adds he understands the frustration residents may have when it comes to homelessness downtown with some calling for police to remove them, but he adds that isn't a real solution when there are no actual crimes committed and, even if they were moved, there isn't anywhere else for them to go.

"What are you taking them off the streets for?," explained Chapman. "There's no law about being on the street. You can't arrest your way out of homelessness. It's just not the way to go about it. A lot have committed criminal code or drug offenses and have been arrested."

With the current opioid crisis in B.C., Mounties in Prince George find fentanyl in numerous situations as well as expecting numerous overdose calls every single day, but Chapman says it's unbelievable how things have shifted over the years.

"Downtown had more issues regarding alcohol," he said when speaking of his first patrols downtown. "It's sort of a different dynamic. It's [the homeless population] is much higher than when I started. It's completely different."

Media were also taken to a homeless camp on Milburn Avenue, just of Queensway.

The camp was full of tents, debris, garbage, drug paraphernalia, mattresses, food wrappers and other items.

The City of Prince George bylaw team has been working with the RCMP to get the campers out and the camp removed.

"It's tough," Chapman added. "We're not going to solve it in one day."