Upper James sees a rise in crime; student housing partly to blame


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By Matthew Le Blanc

A deadly “cocktail” is being mixed around Mohawk as police find themselves called in to the area more frequently.

According to the 2009 Hamilton Police statistics report, a wide area around Upper James and West 5th has slowly become one of the many violence-prone areas (VPA) in Hamilton. In 2006, the same area was a fraction of the size, but in the span of three years it has grown considerably in size.

“There are a lot of rentals in there so you’re getting not just students but you’re getting residents that are transient in nature or have had challenges, you have some high risk individuals as well,” says Terry Whitehead, Hamilton’s City Councillor for Ward 8. “A lot of the activity as I understand it is drug related so people, whether it’s break and enters or otherwise, are trying to feed their drug addictions.”

Despite the rise in criminal activity, Hamilton Police Sgt. Caroline McLean says the crime in this particular VPA is relatively low compared to other areas in the city. She confirms that even though the crime is mostly drug and alcohol related it’s not always students that are causing the trouble. More often than not, students who are away from home for the first time tend to “go wild because of the freedom” and end up advertising their parties publically and online. This often attracts those looking to cause mischief in an uncontrollable environment, making parties an easy way of supporting criminal activity.

Mohawk College works together with its neighbouring residents, bylaw enforcement and the Hamilton Police to ensure the community is as safe as possible for students, homeowners and businesses alike.

“We take a zero tolerance policy to students behaving badly in the neighbourhoods,” says Mohawk’s Manager of Media Relations, Jay Robb. “Fortunately this year has been really quiet from what we’ve been hearing from the majority of our students. Ninety-nine per cent of our students are great. It’s always that one per cent that cause a bit of grief.”

Robb says student housing hasn’t been in high demand since 85 per cent of Mohawk’s students already live within Hamilton. For the other 15 per cent, Robb suggests for parents and students to do their due diligence when looking for housing near the campus.

“If you’re coming back next year or thinking of coming to college, if you’re living in off-campus housing do your homework,” Robb says. “Go to Student Life. They have a housing registry so start there and see what’s available. Don’t just settle for the cheapest rent … don’t take something sight unseen.”

Whitehead says landlords need to be held to a higher standard to prevent what he describes as a “cocktail being mixed” from happening in neighbourhoods.

“To have the type of mix that is developing in that area with students and some of the transient type renters that are showing up, and in some cases renting by the week, we need to ensure that we have pretty stiff penalties and rules to those landlords that are being irresponsible and ensuring that they have a proper mix within the neighbourhood,” Whitehead says.

One solution the city is trying to implement is a licensing program which would force landlords to license their rental housing.

“The problem is obviously landlords don’t want to do it because it’s an extra expense to them and they think it’s a revenue generator [for the city],” says Whitehead. “From our perspective it has nothing to do with revenue generating we want to recoup cost for when we do investigations and haul outs … It’s not about increasing revenue. It’s about ensuring that the standards are being adhered to in each of these rental housing units.”

Both the Hamilton Police and Councillor Whitehead agree that community based policing is a key factor in keeping these neighbourhoods under control and encourages witnesses to report any activity to the police.

“Students who feel intimidated or threatened should call the police,” Whitehead says. “They don’t have to give their name but they can certainly provide the intelligence. That intelligence gathering is paramount for the police to determine the allocation of resources and type of resources for that area.”

For students that will be heading home for the summer, the Hamilton Police would like to stress their zero tolerance policy for any issues surrounding drugs or alcohol during move out week.

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