A former addict who racked up 235 encounters with RCMP in a single year hopes his story will serve as an example of using compassion to tackle crime and social problems facing cities throughout British Columbia.
Daniel Roy, 43, said he became one of Prince George’s most prolific offenders while hooked on meth and heroin.
“My rock bottom had a cellar,” he said, describing cutting through fences and breaking and entering onto private property, before he got sober in 2017.
“I was tired of what I had become.”
Roy shared his story during a 4.5-hour special council meeting focused on social problems in the city. It was prompted by a coalition of business owners saying they were fed up with cleaning dirty needles and human feces, while also dealing with rising instances of shoplifting and assault.
Early in the evening, Captain Neil Wilkinson of the Salvation Army urged empathy, telling the story of a man he called “Bob.” Bob, Wilkinson said, had been caught stealing from the Salvation Army’s compound, in a locked area where they stored scrap metal and tools.
Instead of pursuing charges, the Army’s leadership team decided to help. Wilkinson said as he got to know Bob and his background, he was able to help guide him on a path to sobriety, shelter and employment.
What Wilkinson didn’t know is that “Bob” was also at the meeting, waiting for his turn to speak. It was about an hour later when Roy was called to the microphone and revealed to the crowd of about 200 people that he was, in fact, Bob.
Roy said Wilkinson and other Salvation Army members’ kindness helped him change. He also credited an RCMP officer who showed him kindness on a night when he was planning to take his own life.
Today Roy works at the Salvation Army centre he was once caught stealing from.
Roy said he didn’t know Wilkinson would be at the meeting, either, but he was glad his story had been made public.
“I want the people of Prince George to see that change is possible,” he said.
Frustration, fear at packed public forum
Wilkinson and Roy were two of more than 40 people who shared their stories Monday in an evening described as a chance to share concerns and solutions related to homelessness, addiction and crime.
Jesse Cody, who runs a delivery company, said his drivers flip a coin whenever an order is going to Prince George’s downtown because they are scared of being robbed.
But he also expressed concern for people living on the street, worried someone was going to freeze as temperatures dropped. He urged the city to open an empty lot to homeless campers.
Healthfood store manager Dawn Matte said when she was a girl she was “terrified” to walk downtown, but now, “I would give anything to go back to those days.”
She described employees witnessing a knife fight outside her business, and being threatened with a homemade axe. She also worried about people living on the street being targeted by criminals.
RCMP Supt. Shaun Wright said, as a service centre for Northern B.C., Prince George is dealing with “regional problems at a municipal level.”
Shane DeMeyer of Northern Health said most of the city’s issues could be attributed to mental health, and urged a compassionate approach that included housing and recovery services, such as a proposed supportive housing unit.
Not everyone was convinced. Flooring shop owner Mike Krause said he heard lots of long-term solutions to short-term problems that include his truck being broken into multiple times, and his wife and kids being afraid to visit him at work because of the number of needles on the ground.
“At what point do we say we just don’t want these people here anymore?” he asked. “I know that sounds cold, man, but … it’s a personal choice that people are making.”
“They’re breaking into our buildings and they’re intimidating people walking down our streets. That’s where the problem is.”
Councillor Brian Skakun was similarly skeptical.
“We have victims in the business community who have been robbed, harassed, beaten up,” he said. “There’s no consequences.”
At night’s end, Skakun motioned for a special committee to be formed consisting of business owners, social service providers and people like Roy to come up with recommendations for city council.
The motion passed unanimously.