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‘We’re under siege,’ says frustrated downtown business owner

“It just doesn’t stop. So now I’m putting feelers out because I want to move.”

“What has happened to our downtown?” Larissa Lebel, co-owner of Epik Products, a cannabis dispensary, asked about the heart of Prince George, a place where she’s worked for about 20 years.

Recently, she posted a video on her Facebook page of a man walking unsteadily towards her employee’s car located at the back of the building at 356 George Street and squirting a syringe of his own blood on the door handle. This happened on Saturday at about 2:30 in the afternoon.

“He shot up first, then fills up the syringe with his own blood, looks right up at the camera and walks over to the car and squishes it all over the handle - he looked right at the camera  – what’s he going to do next? Place the syringe - point up – in the handle so it stabs somebody?” Lebel asked in frustration.

Epik Products, who employs 11 people, has only been in business since August and Lebel said there’s been human feces spread halfway up one of two back doors and the business right beside their location, TerraWest Environmental, was set on fire a few months ago when a homeless person tried to keep warm by lighting a fire too close to the building.

“It’s been horrible, disgusting,” Lebel said of the onslaught of incidents.

Luckily, Epik Products is made of brick and its interior is clad in marble so smoke damage was not a permanent part of the damage done to their building but TerraWest was made of wood and it is just now getting renovations done.

Lebel said her employee reported the man squirting blood on the car door handle to the police so there’s a file open on it but when the employee followed up there was no further action taken.

“We don’t know if this guy’s a prolific offender, if that was his first time – who knows?” Lebel said. “We have no idea. It’s worrisome.”

A couple of days earlier, a homeless man put his foot right through the sandwich board Epik had out front.

Not only did he give it a good swift kick on the one side but he turned back and gave the other side an even harder kick and put his foot right through the sign.

“It's just constant down here – it never stops,” Lebel said. “It’s only about $300 to replace the sandwich board but it’s still $300 I didn’t want to spend.”

There’s ashes at the back of the building on a regular basis, which is what’s left of fires lit back there, she added.

Lebel is a graphic artist and has spent the last 20 years happily working in the downtown core.

If ever she discovered a homeless person camped on the doorstep of whatever business she worked at in past years, she would just ask that person to leave and they would get up and clean up the area and peacefully move on, Lebel said.

Now there’s a different culture and attitude from some of those who are on the streets of Prince George, she added.

“Just the shit that’s happened here since we opened – the number of fires – I’ve lost count of, the number of people who have been burned out of their businesses – Pastry Chef’s gone now, EDI is gone, so yeah, I moved down here fully intending that everything was going to be awesome, people will help out, I’ll be able to see what’s going on – and we’ve been under siege since we’ve moved in,” Lebel said. “It just never stops. We just get one thing cleaned up and the next thing happens.”

Not three days after the TerraWest fire, there was a fire at Epik's back door and bylaw services was on it before Lebel even knew about it, she said.

“It just doesn’t stop,” Lebel said. “So now I’m putting feelers out because I want to move.”

And it’s for no other reason than the homeless population.

“I’m just tired of this,” Lebel said. “And I’ve only been here for a few months. I can’t imagine the people who have been dealing with this for so much longer.”

Lebel said she’s been around the homeless for two decades.

“There’s a difference – I don’t know how to describe it – but there’s a difference between the homeless people who have come to this town in the last couple of years,” Lebel said. “They have no respect for their neighbours or their community and I think that’s why they keep getting split into separate camps because you’ve got the people who yeah, they’re homeless but they are still home, and you’ve got people like this guy – oh, I’m going to smear blood on the door handle. Like what the hell, man?”

As long as this keeps happening, Lebel said she’ll keep posting it on Facebook.

“We are under siege down here and there’s no other way to describe it,” Lebel said. “And I feel for the homeless I do but at the same time my staff members don’t feel safe going out to their cars at night.”