Home takeovers for illegal activities growing problem in Thunder Bay, says crime prevention council
'Huge fear factor' due to threats of violence, intimidation keeps victims silent, says council coordinator
The Thunder Bay Crime Prevention Council (TBCPC) is raising the alarm about home takeovers in the northwestern Ontario city by launching a public education campaign to make people more aware of this growing problem, and providing information on where to go for help.
Home takeovers involve a person – who may have initially been invited into the residence – refusing to leave, usually because he or she is conducting illegal activities, said Lee-Ann Chevrette, the coordinator of the TBCPC.
People suffering from addictions, or those with physical, mental or developmental vulnerabilities are particularly at risk.
'Huge fear factor' makes people 'feel really stuck'
"Individuals tend to prey on more vulnerable members of our community so they may approach an individual who they know is struggling and they may offer money in exchange for a place to stay. And while it may seem innocent to begin with, ultimately this individual needs a place to stay, most often to conduct unlawful or illegal activities, such as drug dealing" she explained.
Gangs are frequently involved and may use violence or threats to control the victim and their home.
"People feel really stuck," she said. "There is a huge fear factor in all this."
Gangs use threats, violence to stay in home
"They may threaten to hurt you or your family. They may be eating all your food, they may actually trap you when you're home, asking to take your keys, they make take your phone away, they may start stealing from you, and they may be selling drugs from your home."
People are often afraid of the repercussions of trying to force someone out, she said.
"Perpetrators may use intimidation tactics to silence victims, which might include providing drugs to their victims or warning the homeowner or tenant that they will be in trouble with police for allowing drugs into their home," Chevrette stated in a written release Wednesday.
But it's important victims "recognize they are not to blame and to get help," she said.
The council received assistance from Crime Prevention Ottawa to produce a checklist, postcard, poster and video to help people identify if they need help, and how to access it.
The TBCPC is also working closely with police, the social services administration board, and community groups to determine the best ways to support victims, keep them safe and get the unwanted guests out. Neighbours can also assist by calling police if they notice unusual activity or increased traffic to a home, where unfamiliar people are coming and going at odd hours.
More information is available on the crime prevention council website.