We need solutions to growing drug, crime problem in Duncan
My name is Rupert Koyote, and I am writing as both a business owner in Duncan’s downtown and a resident of North Cowichan.
As all of you are very much aware, we are experiencing an escalating homelessness and drug-use problem here in Duncan. Alongside that, we are also experiencing an attendant increase in crime, including thefts, assaults, coerced sexual acts with minors in exchange for vapes, drugs, etc. escalating prostitution, and the sense among a large number of citizens in the community is that the problem is worse than it has ever been and rapidly worsening.
In order to more fully explore my own concerns, I connected with the clean-up crew on Whistler Street, as although I am without any previous connection to this area of town, one of my children attends Quamichan, and my concern is personally motivated by his exposure to both the risk of needle injury, and also the potential trauma of witnessing assaults and crime that are increasingly evident in this area. After an extended discussion with Will Arnold, owner of Experience Cycling, touching base with neighbouring merchants in the downtown, seeking opinions from other members of the public including neighbours of the OPS site on Trunk Road and Ypres Street as well as canvassing city employees, I am sorry to report that there is widespread concern about theft and public safety, and that the consistent message is that the problem is expanding and is already out of hand. Your article in July 17’s issue of the Citizen about the RCMP’s increase in reported calls underscores related stories I have heard anecdotally: that there is such frustration amongst our RCMP Officers that some are literally transferring out of town as they feel overwhelmed with the situation, which only underscores the severity of the problem.
That said, as a recent active participant with the clean-up crew which leaves the rear entrance of Will Arnold’s business on Whistler Street, I have been favourably impressed by the responsibility that both the RCMP and North Cowichan’s bylaw officers are demonstrating with their morning patrols of the area, and I have also had the opportunity to meet with David Mitchell, Warmland’s operations manager. David — in concert with his committed staff — is doing everything within his tool-box and more to both contain the homeless that are congregating around Warmland and, in conjunction with the by-law officers and the RCMP, to mitigate the impact that the situation is having on the local community. On an informal tour of the facility I was surprised to learn that Warmland’s transition housing accommodates only 24 people, and their shelter, only 15, in two separate dorms of seven and eight, for women and men respectively. That’s 39 spaces total. In spite of this, they are currently providing shelter for 75 on a nightly basis, many sitting upright on chairs as part of their “warming program” that Warmland has extended from the winter on account of the expanding need. And David himself admitted to me that they are absolutely stretched to the seams, under-staffed, concerned about burn-out and the safety of employees, and desperately in need of support.
One positive suggestion Will Arnold offered relative to the profusion of needles was to follow the example of the Qualicum community and demand that the OPS only supply safer, retractable needles rather than the cheaper standard needles which are less safe when discarded and more easily weaponized. For not only are these needles being discarded in plain site, they are also arrayed in raised garden beds and deliberately discarded in city gardens, creating a public health risk which has led to the removal of flower boxes in the area (see the highway frontage of the Re/Max building), and is contributing to occupational safety hazards for city workers, North Cowichan’s children’s camp leaders, who are having to “sweep” areas from the spray park in Centennial Park to the field flanking the community centre, the library, and the VIU buildings, before the leaders are able to release their day-campers. The needles are also being discarded en masse into storm drains in different places in the city, whence they will end up in the sewers and perhaps ultimately the community’s rivers and our Cowichan Estuary.
Although there remains a faithful crew of volunteers from local businesses supporting Will’s clean-up efforts, Whistler Street and the neighbourhood from Dairy Queen through to Kim Wah’s is truly in desperate need of support and assistance. Other areas are currently being cleaned up by a new crew of individuals trained and funded by the Friendship Centre three full days a week. VIHA used to fund a full-time clean up patrol in concert with Warmland, however VIHA pulled that funding over a year ago, in spite of evidence that the problem is worsening.
It’s a crisis. Simple, basic improvements to update street lighting in the Whistler Street area would be a simple start, but the whole area needs a larger light shone on it, and the focussed attention of our community. As previously reported in the Citizen paper, Mayor Staples and Duncan council have approved a Community Safety Plan which has been awaiting commitment from North Cowichan. Perhaps action is forthcoming, and none to soon. I hold my hands up to the work, commitment and volunteerism of Will Arnold and his community and it is well past time for the cavalry to appear in support of his efforts. I don’t pretend to know what a solution looks like, but the Whistler Street area of Duncan is as worthy of support and attention as any other Duncan street-scape. In addition, Will’s volunteerism has inspired and mobilized others to assist, and he has served his community with incredible dedication, for which he should be publicly recognized and supported.
Pressure on our provincial government to unlock funds to provide both immediate and longer-term solutions are one small way the general public can bring support to
1. Will and his community,
2. to Warmland in order to sustain and improve their service level,
3. to the wider community, which includes the residents around the OPS site on Ypres, who are living with legitimate fears around their own safety, as well as increased general anxiety as a consequence of the sustained and increasing traffic that has developed in their community.
An alleged incident in that area between a local business owner and a drug user in the last week is further evidence of the fact that members of our community on every side of this issue are at breaking point, and indicative of the need for decisive action from community leaders and government to address this pressing issue.
Together, we can make a difference, regain control of this challenging situation, and through our sustained efforts, get ahead of it. It takes a village! Please step up and contact the individuals listed below to add your voice.
Information on where to direct your letters/emails to:
BC Housing: The Funding Body for Warmland via CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association)
Sheila DAbertanson: email@example.com
James Tousignant: James.firstname.lastname@example.org
Melissa Middlemiss: Melissa.email@example.com
VIHA and Ministry of Health
Dr. Shannon Waters: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Murphy: email@example.com
Tara Fitzgerald: Tara.firstname.lastname@example.org
MLA Sonia Furstenau: sonia.furstenau.MLA@leg.bc.ca
Deputy Minister Mayhewneilane: email@example.com
Rupert Koyote, managing partner
The Matraea Centre