Police spent 18,000 hours responding to calls at encampments and shelters in Waterloo Region: report

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A new report says Waterloo Regional Police officers spent nearly 18,000 hours responding to calls in and around homeless camps and regional shelters in 2023.

According to the report, prepared by the police administration agency, officers spent 11,266 hours in and around bomb shelters and 5,220 hours in and around encampments.

The total of 17,887 hours is a jump of approximately 4,200 hours compared to 2022 and more than 7,000 hours compared to 2020.

The area has seen a rapid increase in the number of homeless people in recent years.

According to a report prepared by the Region of Waterloo, the number of homeless people in the area has increased by 129 percent since January 2020.

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The report, which will be heard by the services board on Wednesday, says that as the number of encampments has increased, the agency has seen a “corresponding impact on adjacent residential and commercial areas.”

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That said, the report went on to say that there is “not always a direct correlation between the location of a shelter and an encampment on nearby calls for service.”

It noted that some calls may come in because people perceive a threat.

The jump in hours has also led to a corresponding increase in calls, although police say they are starting to change how they operate.

Police say they fielded 10,006 calls around shelters and encampments last year, of which 1,420 were “compassionate to locate” calls, including welfare checks, and a further 1,033 calls for unwanted persons.

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In 2020, when there were far fewer calls to police, the report says most calls involved vehicle stops (844) or an unwanted person (775).

“While attending these calls, officers emphasize diversion, redirection and engagement. WRPS members fully recognize that homelessness is not a criminal matter and work with other social agencies to help meet the needs of individuals,” the report said. “Through significant involvement with local encampments, WRPS members maintain positive working relationships with several local emergency and temporary shelters.”

While the report notes that WRPS has officers who specialize in attending calls in these areas, it says they will look to organizations in the region “that have expertise in these areas to expand their role in frontline response and emergency response.” expand for people who have problems with homelessness and addiction. ” in the area.

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