Garbage heaps like this left by homeless people on Lewis Street caused complaints from local residents. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Garbage heaps like this left by homeless people on Lewis Street caused complaints from local residents. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Editorial: Key Duncan issues not going away quickly

Crime, safety and homelessness

Well no surprises here. That was our primary reaction to the results of the City of Duncan’s Citizen Survey for 2021. Which is not to say that the results aren’t both interesting and important. They should also be informative of decisions local politicians make going forward.

Right up front it’s important to note that while this survey was conducted by the City of Duncan for the City of Duncan, it undoubtedly has implications for the entire greater Duncan area, which spills out into the Municipality of North Cowichan and areas of the Cowichan Valley Regional District, in particular D and E.

What is colloquially known as Duncan is far larger than the one square mile that technically makes up the city. It is a certainty that issues and concerns don’t end at the city limits.

So what are people’s biggest concerns in Duncan? Crime, safety and homelessness top the list, while the (entwined) environmental concerns of air quality and traffic are also significant.

Floating like a menacing black cloud above the top three issues is the opioid crisis, significantly exacerbating all three. It’s not that there haven’t always been issues with crime and drugs that have some worried about their safety, and that there haven’t been a certain number of homeless people living in and around the downtown core, however all of these problems have worsened significantly as the opioid crisis has taken hold. And of course this isn’t just peculiar to Duncan. All of our communities throughout the Cowichan Valley and beyond are facing these issues to one extent or another, from Lake Cowichan to Chemainus to Shawnigan Lake. Nobody is immune. But in Duncan it’s hit critical mass.

Duncan is a beautiful small city. It is highly walkable for the most part, and relatively compact. There is plenty of character and charm to bemuse the visitor and resident alike. But as the aforementioned problems have become highly visible in recent years, they have begun to blight the atmosphere, as people are confronted with these issues as they walk down the street on any given day, whether it’s through discarded needles or a homeless person sleeping in a doorway or passed out on a sidewalk. Once uncommon, these sights aren’t any longer.

But there is hope. We are working on it. From needle patrols to graffiti removal, supportive housing to safe supply pilot programs our communities aren’t turning a blind eye. We’ve spent too long pretending it wasn’t there to fix these problems quickly. And more certainly needs to be done. But it’s worth doing to preserve the downtown we love.