The frustration, vocalized; the responses, candid; the possible solution, various.
Over 50 business owners and/or employees convened at the Courtyard Marriott last night (Nov. 12) to attend what the Prince George Chamber of Commerce (PGCC) called an emergency consultation to address the downtown core in light of recent incidents that brought forward dozens of concerns.
Some of the frustrated responses, made by various members in attendance, included:
- “Our voices aren’t being heard; we’re being ignored.”
- “Resources need to be there because policies keep shifting.”
- “It’s not fair that we have to pick up after them.”
- “On the street is where s*** happens and we need to lock them up.”
- “I wonder where city hall’s money is really going.”
Crime, vandalism and public safety were the three notable topics that resonated with these answers.
“The amount of needles he picks up every single day; we have kids coming in at that are at risk,” said one business owner, claiming she and her co-owners see a number of people using those needles near their door and have to try and keep their business as clean as they can.
“We tell them to move along and generally, they’re respectful, but where do they move? They’re just being moved around and that’s obviously not working for anyone. [...] It comes down to the fact that this is a drug problem and this is a mental illness problem.”
“We sweep the sidewalks and we shovel them in the winter to keep out business clean and our neighbours don’t,” said another business owner who says St. Vincent de Paul is a block away from them.
“I pull into my parking spot and I see two people injecting needles into each other at the back door of my tavern. If I had customers pull in at the exact same time, you’d think they be happy to park there, jump right in and have a good meal and a beer? Nope, they would’ve kept going. If every part of a city, a vibrant city, has a vibrant downtown, we don’t have it. We have a downtown, but it’s a mess. You can do whatever you want for policing, you can have little places to put people, take them off the street and put them there overnight, but guess what, the next day, they’re in downtown Prince George getting their needles, getting their junk, getting their drugs and doing it on your doorstep.”
A safehouse or a place where people can get care for was a solution that ruled the meeting with other business owners saying they think downtown should look for a way to help those using drugs or with mental health issues transition into society.
“Who’d be willing to actually have some compassion for the people that are on the streets and say, ‘Hey, let’s go clean this area up?’,” said one woman who had worked in outreach-related programs for over a decade.
“That’s what I did in Quesnel and people started to feel like they were more worthy and they went and cleaned up their areas and they were grateful that they even had an hour to do something in a day.”
Policing seems to be another struggle with Prince George's business owners as it’s been noted many times the RCMP lack resources, getting an average of two new officers each year.
One woman who’s owned a downtown business for two years claims she got mixed signals when she reported a break-and-enter.
“Police had come to take my statement and it was just a quick in-and-out sort of thing,” she said. “I took photos and I shared it with police, they said ‘Don’t touch it,’ and my business is now being turned into a crime scene. For me as a business owner, it’s very frustrating when I’m getting mixed messages when someone tells me, ‘This is really important, don’t touch it. They’re going to come and finger-print it,’ and when I’m getting in touch with the actual officer, he’s not responding and all I get is an email. I’d like to see them get on the same page.”
The PGCC asked members for potential solutions they can present to Prince George city council (as seen in the above photo gallery).
Some consisted of CCTV cameras, a review of the Crown’s charging process when people are committing a crime or even establishing a long-term working group of business and government.
CEO Todd Corrigall points to two particular ideas that could be achievable in the short-term when it comes to downtown public safety.
“Holding the agencies accountable for cleaning up the debris that’s left by their users, and so whether that’s the social services agencies themselves or Northern Health as their partner in delivering those services, that’s an immediate impact on the appearance of the downtown. Then there’s lighting; increasing and enhancing the lighting is a fairly easy step because you can find partners in delivering that. It’s going to get shorter and darker for quite some time. These enhancements I think can help move the discussion forward in a positive direction and then we can start to focus on some of those mid- to long-term objectives.”
He adds the next step to take the engagement process to the next level and hopes city council will grant the PGCC delegation to present these concerns.
Corrigall noted Prince George begins its 2020 budget planning in about six weeks' time, so if they approve a council presentation, he hopes it’ll be sooner than later.
City Councillor Brian Skakun was in attendance for the emergency consultation, as was Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond.
The PGCC clarified to the audience they were not personally invited but came on their own free will to hear public concerns.