Police hope working to mitigate poverty will eventually result in less local crime

By Kirk Winter

The median employment income in Kawartha Lakes is only $32,800 per year, $4,560 below the provincial average.

Kawartha Lakes Police Services chief Mark Mitchell presented to council a detailed outline of the Community Safety and Well Being plan that will likely be adopted by council officially on Jan. 25.

The plan calls for police to work together with community groups like Ross Memorial Hospital, the two school boards that serve Kawartha Lakes, public health, Children’s Aid and the Kawartha Lakes Human Services department to improve services for those suffering from mental illness and addiction, poverty and precarious housing. The plan is also to hyper-focus on youth by providing at-risk young people with positive options for the future.

The hope appears to be that by dealing with some or all of these serious societal issues the police will see a downtick in incidents, arrests and those being unnecessarily jailed. There is a growing assertion that many of these issues could be more effectively and humanely dealt with by other community/governmental organizations before the police need to become involved.

Kawartha Lakes Police Chief Mark Mitchell. Photo: Erin Burrell.

“The Police Services Act mandates the development of this plan,” Mitchell told council. “Our goal is to be pro-active, not reactive to crime. Rather than just focusing on responding to the incident (as investigating officers), we will be focusing much more on risk intervention, prevention and social development.”

Mitchell told councillors that this plan might take months or even years to bear fruit, but that all the outcomes of the plan are in line with city goals that include building social infrastructure and improving the health and wellbeing of residents.

Mitchell stressed to council that policy changes made to deal with the issues detailed in the Community Safety and Well Being Plan will continue for “a very long time” and that as a member of this group he will be reporting back to council next year.

The advisory committee has spent months ploughing through reams of pertinent social data for Kawartha Lakes. Some of the highlights of that data analysis were shared. They paint a picture of a community and its support agencies struggling to deal with a tidal wave of mental health issues, poverty, underemployment and precarious housing.

In 2020, Ross Memorial Hospital had nearly 2,000 visits to the emergency room for issues involving mental health and 49 per cent of the patients were between the ages of 18-44. The police service averaged 40 mental health calls a month in 2021, up from 28 in 2020.

The median employment income in Kawartha Lakes is only $32,800 per year, $4,560 below the provincial average. To afford a modest apartment that rents at $1,125 a month someone would need to earn $43,200 a year.

The Kawartha Lakes-Haliburton Housing Corporation has a waiting list of nearly 1,2,00 applications from people looking for one bedroom geared-to-income housing. From 2019-2021 only two building permits were issued for one bedroom apartment construction in the entire city.

“Average rent and housing prices continue to rise,” Mitchell said. “What is good for some is very problematic for others. The intersection between housing and poverty is there.”

Mayor Andy Letham thanked Mitchell and his committee for their work and the draft plan received unanimous support.

“This is a wonderful piece of work,” said Councillor Emmett Yeo. “I can’t imagine this was easy, and I look forward to your report next year.”

“There are going to be challenges for this plan with average home sales hovering around $700,000,” said Councillor Pat O’Reilly. “Where do you plan to start?”

Mitchell said the plan will be used in a variety of ways. Many of the member agencies who assisted in the creation of the plan will be using the plan to give structure to future grant applications.

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