Public drinkers plague city, merchants say
Being drunk in public. Defecating in public places. Fornicating in the alleyways.
Sleeping in doorways, rummaging through garbage cans, and pushing overflowing carts back and forth of the main streets of the downtown core.
Local business owners are saying enough is enough.
“You see it from early morning to later in the evening,” said James Cordeiro, co-owner of the Elephant’s Ear. “It’s the same handful of guys.”
Cordeiro and Lance Dettwiler, co-owner of the Elephant’s Ear and Maison Décor, say the public drunks are deteriorating the downtown area and posing a safety hazard to merchants and employees.
“Something needs to be done before it gets out of control,” Cordeiro said.
They are asking city council and the local police to exercise their full authority to deal with the growing problem that they say is slowly killing the town’s core, and are passing around a petition to local businesses for support.
“Our staff, our customers and we are no longer content to sit by and allow this to continue in our neighbourhood,” the petition says. “We are faced regularly with belligerent drunks and loiterers who feel no remorse in diminishing our efforts to contribute to the economic growth of Terrace...”
Councillor Marylin Davies says the city is aware of the problems on the street. City council and Chamber of Commerce members met with the RCMP last week, and she has spoken with local merchants who are unhappy with the situation.
“Everybody wants something done,” she said. She said there is a mix of people on the streets: “There are people with mental problems, people with addiction problems, people who want help, there are youth on the street.”
Dettwiler says the problem has become more apparent to him since he’s worked downtown. The 4600 block of Lakelse Ave. attracts public drunks, he says, partly because the awning and structure of the doorways provide shelter.
He’s noticed people using the back alley as a bathroom, and has also seen drunken teenagers having sex in the alley. People can be found sleeping in their doorways in the morning, and they’ve found people sleeping in bathroom of their cafe.
“It’s a city-wide problem,” Dettwiler sad. “It’s public drunkenness. Why aren’t we enforcing the law?”
Dettwiler also notes that the shopping carts pushed up and down the street are, in essence, stolen property.
“I think we’re going to have to step up enforcement,” Davies said, but admitted that it is a revolving door and does not get the people permanently off the streets.
Cordeiro and Dettwiler say they don’t bother calling the police anymore because response time is at least half an hour and the drunks get little more than a slap on the wrist.
“I don’t know the reasoning behind why no one wants to address this,” Cordeiro said. “Leaving them on the streets doesn’t solve the problem. Taking them to the [drunk] tank doesn’t solve the problem.”
“The big question is,” he said, “what are we going to do about it?”
Davies has concentrated on getting chronic drunks off the street for the past two years, and said there are people working hard to make shelter available.
“This particular group of homeless need a home, they need a place to collect,” she said. “They gather downtown because that’s where their friends are.”
While Dettwiler says the current scenario does not create an inviting environment for tourism, there are other concerns about the habitual drunks in public places.
Their main ones centre around safety for both their employees and patrons, and the safety of the drunks themselves.
“It’s a matter of time before something happens to these guys,” Cordeiro said.
The petition notes there is growing youth violence directed at street people, and they don’t want that to happen.
“It’s not safe for them to be out here at night, and it’s not fair to us,” Cordeiro said. While he says most of the inebriated people don’t cause problems, some do turn belligerent and harass others on the street.
For the most part, Davies says the chronic drinkers she’s concerned about are harmless, and there have even been instances when they get beaten up.
“They’re not defacing property,” she said, although admits they do cause a bit of a nuisance when they panhandle.
The mayor of Williams Lake is currently trying to ban an aggressive panhandler from the city, but Davies says she’s not sure Terrace will follow those steps.
“The reality is, they are here,” she said. “The reality is, they live beyond the third world standard.”
Last year’s shelter for chronic drinkers run by the Ksan House Society was deemed a success by the city and its operators. Davies is hoping money will come through this winter to open up the shelter again.
“We need to get them a place to sleep at night where they can be warm...and not the jail,” she said.
Davies notes that addictions are also clouding the issue.
“You want a place to be able to take people who want help,” she said.
There is no addictions or detox centre available in town, and the closest detox centre in Prince George closed temporarily in early July.
“All we can do is keep working at it, ” Davies said. “I’m open to any suggestions that come in to me.”