Regional police spent thousands of hours responding to calls near shelters, encampments: Report

A new report coming to the Waterloo Regional Police Board is shedding light on calls for service near homeless shelters and encampments.

The report finds that last year, officers spent 17,887 hours responding to calls for service near shelter and encampment locations, an increase of over 4,000 hours compared to 2022 and the equivalent of 9 full-time officers.

The majority of those calls came from regional shelters with 12,666 hours spent, whereas encampments was 5,220 hours.

Officers responded to 10,006 occurrences within the immediate area of an encampment or shelter across the region. The most frequent call type was “compassion to locate” (well-being check) followed by unwanted person and vehicle stops.

Graph shows a number of calls per location type. (Police Services Board)

Neighbourhoods bordering the area of encampments and shelters saw an increase in calls for service compared to the year before, including Waterloo, Kitchener, Cambridge and the edge of Wilmot township. The report notes that there is no direct correlation between the location of a shelter or an encampment and calls for service, as both real and perceived community safety is affected.

The report also looked at drug enforcement by police when it came to simple drug possession charges. Regional police note they have “de-prioritized” the enforcement of simple drug possession charges as a stand-alone offence, resulting in the number of those charges laid falling by 56 per cent over the last four years.

In 2020, there were 763 charges laid compared to the 337 laid in 2023. The prevalence of opioid-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths have remained about the same over the same period.

The region’s plan to end chronic homelessness found that homelessness has increased by 129 per cent since January 2020 at a rate of 28 per cent a year. The same report noted a “disproportionately high rate of substance use among those experiencing homelessness” across the region as well.

The report will be presented to the police board on Wednesday.

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