When he thinks of his kids safety, John Neary, thinks about speeding cars and urban traffic, not sex offenders.
A member of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association, the Hamilton doctor has two children under the age of five.
'It’s never occurred to me that sex offenders should be high on the list of problems that make me worried for my children’s safety.' - L8R resident John Neary
“It’s never occurred to me that sex offenders should be high on the list of problems that make me worried for my children’s safety,” said Neary.
The Beasley neighbourhood, located just east of downtown crosses into postal tract L8R. Newly released figures indicate that tract of Hamilton has one of the highest per capita concentrations of registered sex offenders in the province and that there are 200 registered sex offenders living across the lower city.
Neary isn’t phased and in fact is part of a chorus of lower-city residents who contend their neighbourhoods are good places to live and argue the presence of convicted sex offenders isn’t high on their list of safety concerns.
Though he lives within a one-kilometre radius of both the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre on Barton Street East and the St. Leonard’s halfway house on Robert Street, Neary said vehicles driving at high rates of speed along the Beasley neighbourhood’s one-way streets — and by extension, the planning decisions that have allowed that to happen — pose a much bigger threat to his kids’ well-being.
“I’m not worried about him going near St. Leonard’s by himself,” Neary said about his four-year-old son. “He can’t even cross Cannon Street.”
Late last month, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to make public a 2008 database that had been requested years ago by Global News.
The document outlines the number of registered sex offenders living in each of the province’s forward sortation areas (FSAs), or grouping of postal codes that begin with the same three characters.
This interactive map shows the per capita concentration of registered sex offenders for each of Hamilton's forward sortation areas (FSAs) in 2008:
Data source: Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services
Unveiled by Global late last week, the data raised an alarming spectre for Hamilton: that a central-west segment of the lower city — the one with postal codes beginning with “L8R” — contained the highest per capita rate of sex offenders in southern Ontario.
The early headlines prompted local politicians to demand more answers on the situation and the risk that it poses to public safety.
A little further west, Krist Hayes has no trouble extolling the virtues of the historic patch of west Hamilton he, his wife Christina, their dog and two cats call home.
“I would say this is a family neighbourhood,” said the high school teacherand Strathcona resident. “When I go out, I walk my dog every day in the park and what I see are families, what I see are positive people.”
Hayes, an executive member of the Strathcona Community Council (SCC), said he isn’t shocked by the revelations.
“There’s a lot of social services in the neighbourhood, so that’s not surprising,” said Hayes, who moved to Strathcona in 2012. “But you wouldn’t really feel it. You wouldn't notice it. There’s a lot of supportive people around here.”
In fact, falling crime rates have factored into the neighbourhood’s surging desirability among out-of-town buyers looking to move to Hamilton, according to Tim Mattioli, president of the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington. He said Strathcona is located inside a cluster of historically low-income neighbourhoods that are now undergoing an economic “rebirth.”
Loosely bounded by the bayfront to the north, Queen Street to the east, Main Street to the South and Highway 403 to the west, Strathcona comprises roughly one third of the L8R postal tract. Boasting tall trees and century-old redbrick homes, it borders the city’s downtown core, which crosses into the same FSA.
“The schools are there, the parks are there, the housing is there, the access is there,” Mattiola said of the neighbourhood, which features Dundurn Castle and lies within walking distance of the Hamilton Farmers Market and the much-written-about arts scene on James Street North.
More pressing concerns
Activist Deirdre Pike, another SCC board member, said Strathcona is “one of the safest neighbourhoods in Hamilton for all kinds of reasons.”
For example, a strong police presence in the area “increases people’s sense of safety,” she said.
Whenever a police community safety officer attends SCC meetings, the most common resident complaints that come up are “property offences,” instances of minor theft and drunk revellers spilling over from neighbouring Hess Village, said Pike.
The potential presence of convicted sex offenders in the neighbourhood isn’t high on the list of safety concerns in Strathcona, she said.
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'Sex offenders have to live somewhere'
A total of 51 registered sex offenders lived in L8R postal codes in 2008. The FSA had a rate of 484.65 sex offenders per 100,000 residents — the highest in southern Ontario, but much lower than at least one tract in northern Ontario.
Several neighbouring Hamilton FSAs had rates that were well above the provincial average.
After the Global report came out on Thursday, Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr said he expects L8R’s ranking to improve when the Hamilton Community Corrections Centre, a federal government-run halfway house at 94 York Blvd., closes later this year.
"Twenty-four beds and a portion of those beds, quite obviously, and a good portion maybe in some cases throughout time, with sex offenders," Farr told CBC Hamilton.
But Pike, a planner for the Social Planning and Research Council, said rehabilitation programs for convicts and recovering addicts shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a threat to lower-city residents.
'We know that, with proper support, people are able to transition back into the community and participate in life in the community.' —Deirdre Pike, Social Planning and Research Council
“It’s definitely an area that we think is really important, that we see more supports to see people transition out of prison,” she said. “We know that, with proper support, people are able to transition back into the community and participate in life in the community.”
The fervour to drive recovery facilities out of Hamilton misses the point, Neary added.
“Sex offenders have to live somewhere,” he said. “If it’s not Beasley, it’ll have to be somewhere else.
“There has to be a St. Leonard’s. There doesn’t have to be a Cannon Street.”