By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
While he believes the issue of homelessness requires compassion, Mayor Dan Carter says “lawlessness” will not be tolerated.
In late-August, Carter reached out to Durham Police Chief Paul Martin to discuss a trend of homeless people residing on city and private property committing criminal acts.
Back in July, Durham Regional Police stepped in to evict a group of individuals living in a tent city just off Quebec Street in Oshawa.
The owner of the property gave police permission to enact the eviction.
However, Carter says residents were told by police officers that he tolerated, and even supported, homeless individuals, setting up camp on private property.
But the first-term mayor says this false.
“I wanted to make sure there was no miscommunication between my office, constituents and police officers,” he says.
Carter says the vast majority of those living at the Quebec Street tent city kept to themselves.
“The individuals who just want to go their own way, we rarely, if ever, have any issues with those individuals.”
But others were anything but peaceful, he adds.
“I was getting calls from business owners and private landowners that there were incidents they were facing and encountering,” he says.
According to the mayor, he was receiving between six to 10 calls a day.
He explains one resident, a 94-year-old old woman, received threats from someone who was stealing vegetables from her.
Carter claims the woman was sworn at and told to “mind her business.”
“That’s not right, and that’s not fair,” he says.
While Carter says support and services are available to those “who are suffering,” he expects all city residents, homeless or not, to respect the letter of the law and the rights of others.
“If you call Oshawa home, we have an expectation of public safety. To the people who are breaking into buildings, cars, and homes and people who are dealing drugs, we will not tolerate lawlessness. It just needed to be reiterated,” he said.
Carter, who has faced drug addiction and homelessness himself, says that never gave him “the right to break the law.”
“I’m a very compassionate person and I will go to extremes to try and help people, but don’t think it comes unconditionally. If you need help, I’ll help you. If you break the law, I’ll hold you accountable,” he says.
In a subsequent letter addressed to Martin, Carter says complaints regarding theft, vandalism, mischief and aggressive behaviour are becoming more frequent.
“This is a serious community safety issue that requires diligence. We ask for the continued commitment to enforcement and addressing this unlawful behaviour, and we welcome any ideas or concepts that may be able to help us address this issue,” Carter wrote.
Carter told The Oshawa Express he felt he had a “very good conversation” with the chief.
He also praised the senior officials at Durham Police’s 17 Division for their help with the issue.
Christeen Thornton, the founder of community outreach group DIRE, told The Express in July while she doesn’t condone criminal activity, the residents in tent cities are in crisis and are just instinctively trying to survive.
“I’m not endorsing it. They do need help and they do need intervention, but I don’t think people necessarily understand the whole picture,” she said.
The Quebec City incident was the second of two tent cities in Oshawa torn down over the summer.
In June, crews came in to dismantle a camp established near the Oshawa Creek after allegations of criminal acts such as propane tank thefts and people stealing hydro from local houses through extension cords.
In the past went tent cities have come down, residents often relocate to another area in the city.At this point, Carter said he is not aware of a new tent city starting up yet.
The mayor also noted that “not one” individual evicted from the Quebec Street camp was receptive to offers of help.