A handful of people are causing big headaches for downtown Courtenay merchants and shoppers.
Jenny Deters, president of the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association, wrote to council asking for help.
“Unfortunately, in the last while we have seen a dramatic increase in a number of incidences of unwanted behaviour such as panhandling, vagrancy, drug-use, public urination, defecation and solicitation,” she wrote.
“Sadly, it is getting to the point that some people coming to the downtown area do not feel safe – one of our businesses has had to endure the cost of hiring private security through the night.”
No easy answers
Courtenay councillors Monday night had no easy answers, other than that the obvious starting point is with the local RCMP.
Mayor Larry Jangula said he understands the fear about being around people under the influence of drugs.
He said many people are taking their children to the Comox Library instead of the Courtenay outlet because of certain types hanging around the downtown library.
CAO David Allen said what he would probably look to do, or have staff do, is contact Comox Valley RCMP Inspector Tim Walton about the problem.
“Perhaps this is an opportunity for the RCMP to speak directly to the DCBIA,” he said. “Maybe there’s a better way to focus their energies.”
‘It’s a Valley problem’
Counc. Erik Eriksson said it wasn’t just a Courtenay issue – “this is downtown Comox Valley. The entire Comox Valley should be sharing in this matter.”
Eriksson said the Courtenay library staff is having a “very difficult” time … “they’re working hard to make it better for all concerned.”
Counc. Manno Theos suggested the city and police examine a “community policing” office in the downtown core. And, he said, Vancouver has a volunteer “ambassador” program in the summer giving out information to visitors.
“They’re not going to be dealing with crimes … they’re extra eyes and ears. People looking to cause some trouble … it may deter them from doing some of the things they’re doing.”
Theos, though, said he didn’t know what could be done at the library, other than perhaps video surveillance cameras “and other means”.
He said the people he sees congregating outside the library “seems almost like the prolific same half dozen or eight people that could be causing all this commotion.” But, he added, moving these people from the library just means they’ll “go somewhere else.”
Merchants have ideas
Deters in her letter to council had suggested that the city and regional district “lean on” the Vancouver Island Regional Library management, not the local staff, “to be more aware of what is happening on their property and the behaviour that they are currently allowing.
“The activities that are being performed at the library is reducing access to community members as many are uncomfortable entering the Courtenay location for fear of walking past individuals who may be unpredictable due to drug-induced states,” she wrote.
She also called for the city, the regional district, Comox and Cumberland – “since former residents of their communities seem to be congregating in downtown Courtenay” – to put pressure on the Island Corridor Foundation for use of the old train station.
“We strongly believe that this is a good location for Vancouver Island Health Authority to operate some excellent community support such as sanitation services, counseling, transitional shelter, meal delivery and/or other services.”
Don’t call them ‘them’
Counc. Doug Hillian, who had first raised the issue of problems at the library over two years ago, said “I just want us to be careful talking about ‘them’. We should try to combine the provision of services, policing, and community involvement in trying to resolve the problems.”
Hillian said “there’s some smart people” involved in local support organizations.
“I think it’s a matter of consistent approach.”
“I think primarily we need to continue shining a light on this issue,” he said.
When the issue at the library first arose over two years ago, he said the police started walkabouts downtown.
The community policing model is excellent, he said, but the challenge is in sustaining it.
“It would be useful if we pulled together, had a meeting with police, the library, downtown business people and some of the agencies involved. It’s something we probably need to do again,” he added.
“Crime prevention tells us when you shine a light on things … it actually makes a difference.”
Bicycle officer working hard
Counc. David Frisch, who is the city’s representative on the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association, said at last month’s committee of the whole meeting that he’d been hearing concerns about “people loitering and behaving impolitely, to say the least.” He said the business community just wants to feel safe.
Comox Valley RCMP Insp. Tim Walton said at the meeting that the detachment’s bicycle officer, who retired and came back as a reservist, is working hard on a casual contract basis of two or three days a week to “keep certain people out of certain areas.” The library, he added, has recently issued trespassing letters to several repeat nuisances.
“He knows pretty much everybody by name downtown and is trying to balance enforcement with prevention,” Walton said.
‘An urgent matter’
Deters and the downtown merchants wans “more police enforcement downtown. “We understand ‘An urgentthat there are many services located in the Downtown area that cater to this crowd, however we feel that official enforcement will discourage some from ‘hanging out’.
“We would like to remind you that this is an urgent matter that is distracting our community from enjoying our vibrant downtown core.”