After months of patrolling the Terrace downtown area, the Northern Valley Rangers’ contract has ended with a final report being submitted to the City of Terrace.
At the Committee of the Whole meeting on Oct. 10, the Terrace Downtown Improvement Area (TDIA) presented six pages outlining the issues affecting the streets and how the Rangers offered support.
“We’re going to take a break from security over the winter because it’s not in our budget or the start of the city’s budget,” says Dave Gordon, president of the TDIA.
“It worked well because they’re local and they personally got to know some of the folks in the downtown area… and that gave them a fair bit of credit when they needed to move people along, who respected them and followed their requests.”
This past March, the Northern Valley Rangers were hired by the TDIA for a trial period of two months to conduct patrols to control unwanted activity, excessive loitering, drinking in public and to report any crime-related activity.
In June, their contract was reinstated for another four months in a joint agreement between the TDIA and the City of Terrace to share the costs.
“I think security [through a contracted company] is a more cost-effective tool than a bylaw officer or an RCMP officer… we’d like to see just how the issues go in the downtown without regular security there every day,” Gordon says. “If we think it needs to be addressed before then, we’ve asked the city to support us in security next year but we need them to take the lion’s share of the funding and we’ll put in up to $20,000 ourselves.”
Northern Valley Rangers’ owner-operator John Clayton says their approach has always been compassion first as “ambassadors of safety” and they’re not there to imitate police but simply guide people to the rightful places or resources.
Throughout their time, they worked together with many local organizations such as the Kermode Friendship Society, Northern Health, Nisga’a Employment Skills and Training (NEST), and local soup kitchens. They got to know a lot of the individuals and hear their stories on a daily basis, trying to learn about what brought them there.
Operations manager Dean Haizimsque says he used to live on the streets when he was younger, which helps him better understand people.
He says their security company prefers to use the term “street people” over “homeless people” as they found many of the repetitive calls they dealt with were mainly coming from people who did have an address but were choosing to gather in the downtown area.
“I’ve learned that 85 to 90 per cent of them do have homes to go to, they are just there by habitual habit or force of habit, or this is what they’re used to or who they’re used to being with,” Haizimsque says.
“Terrace has become a hub because people know that you can get things here, in cash flow, in food, everybody can get clothes every day, you can get your drugs every day too… that’s the problem with here, you have all these agencies giving up food, medicine, drugs, they’re coming from all over the province, not just from Terrace now.”
In the report, areas of safety concerns were highlighted in the Terrace area which include drinking in public, excessive loitering, theft and many health issues stemming from addiction — especially with methamphetamine.
Clayton notes Terrace is no longer the safe town that residents claim it to be, so people need to be more careful and make a habit of locking their doors.
He says a lot of the unwanted downtown activity has moved away from areas of sight into residential neighborhoods. They’ve noticed since the Sonder House, a supportive housing project for the homeless and at-risk has opened on Olson Avenue, there have been daily disturbances occurring in that area as well.
“It’s everywhere, it’s not just downtown. It’s all over the place and homeowners now are getting the backlash so people are getting robbed,” Clayton says. “I think we need to concentrate more on residential and business properties with surveillance patrols.”
Clayton says their company has opened up their services to residents as he’s realized many neighborhoods are forming watch programs, and says he is astonished by all the home thefts being posted online. He says RCMP struggle with a lot of calls and it can take them a while to respond, so they’re happy to help with the non-emergency calls.
Haizimsque predicts the situation is going to worsen.
“This is just the beginning. Once the industry starts moving, you’re going to see a whole raft coming in…they’re going to be coming from halfway around the world to come to try to find a job, and not all of them are going to get jobs,” Haizimsque says. “They’re going to move their families here if they have to, which means there’s gonna be a ton more street people too.”