There has been a recent shift in the city and you can feel the tension on the streets and in the community. We are coming to terms with being a big hub city, a city with health authorities, social agencies, Indigenous agencies, police and city council who clearly have no plan or idea on how to mitigate the damage that a small group of residents are inflicting on our community's morale, city workers, business owners, taxpayers, customers and visitors to the city.
As a business owner, landlord and dweller in downtown, I get to experience the current state of affairs in a unique way. First is the constant defending of one's choice to operate a business downtown to one's customers. I personally love the community that is developing and the convenience of walking everywhere. Even parking is not so bad.
Second is to find ways to make our tenants feel safe and ensure that our investments are protected. This involves daily clean up of drug garbage and temporary shelters and the moving along of opportunistic people who are regularly roaming the alleys and often voice some entitlement about their rights to litter, damage, steal, ask for money and cause disturbances.
Third is trying to attract new quality tenants for vacancies so that the significant investment we have made has enough income in the bank to pay the ever increasing property taxes. Consider this in the light of some business entities recently relocating or closing their doors to downtown while citing downtown issues as their primary motivators for drawing the line. Consider this prior to considering moving into one of the new suites downtown.
With the recent conclusion of Talktober, where the city did most of the talking, it was incredibly frustrating to hear that with all the efforts the city is expending to manage the downtown, they still saw nothing wrong with the opening of POUNDS, a second harm reduction site that is now serving customers after hours which includes in a tent in the alley.
What has the effect of this new downtown initiative been? I am sure the agency can provide a positive and unidimensional conclusion of its client care statistics and the pride the workers take in their calling. However, this month on our block alone, we have seen an increase in drug garbage, increased camping on private property, the report of the assault of our neighbor at Topaz Beads, two attempted break ins on vehicles, and of course the regular accosting received when protecting or cleaning up our properties. Not to forget the increased pest control problem created by all the discarded food that food security agencies provide, which in turn feeds whole communities of mice, pigeons and crows.
It is beyond disappointing that the city staff, councillors and mayor do not have what it takes to make difficult political decisions, that will benefit downtown and the community at large.
What of course I am referring to is to demand that harm reduction sites re-evaluate how they provide services in order to meet their goals while committing to a mitigation strategy for social damages to those who share the downtown. The city should enforce or issue bylaw infractions, implement finesand closures of social agencies who cannot or refuse to manage their clientele, prevent their clients from squatting within a short radius of their agencies, clean up after their clients and reduce the constant drain on resources via service calls daily to these locations. This in no way suggests abandoning the marginalized populations served, but rather to provide a higher standard of service and to view service provision in a less myopic and community friendly manner.
Why is this needed? Simple.
These services have created a zone within the city that attracts and retains undesirable activities seven days a week. A person with addictions, without a home, or person who preys on these people by selling drugs or buying services has all they need in a two-to-three block radius. Within two to three blocks, people sleep unmolested on agency and business door steps, buy drugs, receive free needles and drug testing, receive breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then when money runs low, detox and thieve all in the same area.
As a business owner, I understand that we cannot arrest our way out of mental health and addiction issues and that the RCMP are not fully equipped to manage the problems nor are we poised to solve all the problems created by addiction and trauma, but it is time that the city take a stand and protect those that are in fact paying taxes and working every day to make downtown and Prince George a better place.
It is time for the mayor, city council and city staff to stand up, stop condoning and supporting agencies that are not pulling their weight in the improvement of downtown and rather reinforce the positive work that others are doing downtown.