Dave Gordon realized there was a problem soon after Cambria Gordon, the environmental consulting services company he co-owned, moved to the second floor of an office building on Park Ave. across from George Little Park in 2008.
From the firm’s windows, Gordon could see drinking, loitering and general scenes of public disorder often requiring the presence of police officers in what was supposed to be the city’s outdoor public showcase.
“What we had was a front row seat,” said Gordon. “Police cars in the park, people sleeping in the park, all kinds of activity.”
The park was a place where Gordon didn’t want his children to go and where he felt other parents wouldn’t want their children to go either.
“They just didn’t feel comfortable there,” Gordon added.
While Gordon could do little directly, Cambria Gordon decided it could play a role in helping a new program being offered in the old carpenters union hall on Sparks St., a block west from the park and the firm’s offices.
Bought by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in late 2008 and renamed the All Nations Centre, the building was the scene of a weekend soup kitchen run by the church.
Up until the purchase, the church set up its soup kitchen in George Little Park on the weekends.
On the weekdays, the hall was the location of a second soup kitchen and drop-in for homeless and lower income people run on a shoestring budget by the Terrace and District Community Services Society.
The assistance provided by Cambria Gordon took the form of a $750 a month rent subsidy, providing the weekday program with stability.
“What we saw [in the park] was poverty, people with addictions issues. What we were looking for was a project for our charity money, something that would have a community value,” said Gordon of Cambria Gordon’s decision.
Gordon says activity in the park has calmed down nowadays with the location being better used by families and others.
Five years ago, Gordon didn’t want his 14-year-old daughter hanging out there. Today his 14-year-old son hones his skateboarding skills in the park.
“Our 14-year-old son does hang out there now and I don’t worry. And you don’t see people sleeping in the park anymore.”
Although Cambria Gordon has now sold to a larger company called Stantec, Gordon says the outreach program remains on the office’s community giving list.
Dennis Lissimore from the Terrace Downtown Improvement Area Society credits Cambria Gordon with helping provide an alternative location for homeless people and those on lower incomes.
The weekday program now includes counselling and other programs for those who attend and offers a safe place for people to visit, he says.
“Having a program there offering help is all part of the solution,” Lissimore said.
As for George Little Park, Lissimore says there has been a change.
“The park has definitely seen quite a cleanup. I think people now consider it their park and not just a park,” Lissimore adds.
A city project to first demolish a semi-circle shaped large concrete bandshell in the middle of the park, replacing it with a open stage in the southwest corner has helped as well.
“It’s more open. There are better visual sight lines compared to the old bandshell there,” said Lissimore of the new stage.
The relocation of the Saturday and Wednesday farmers markets to the parking lot on the western edge of the park and musical events during summer months has also given the park more of a community use focus, he said.
“Now, for instance, you have people buying lunch at Bert’s Deli and walking across the street to the park. There was a time when that might not have been a great idea.”
The growing unease in the community about public intoxication and public disorder led to the creation of what the Terrace RCMP detachment called the Crime Reduction Unit, popularly called the street crew, in 2008.
It was focused on the downtown core, including regular patrols of George Little Park, and officers made a point of preventing trouble before it could get started.
Unlike officers on regular patrol, the street crew members, because of the concentration on the downtown core, were often seen on foot.
The unit has since been disbanded and its officers added to the detachment’s regular patrols.
Constable Angela Rabut of the Terrace RCMP detachment says that while the amount of public disorder may have declined at George Little Park since 2008, it has not gone away.
It’s hard to use year over year data for comparisons because factors such as weather and the actions of just a few individuals who can generate a high demand for police service can affect statistics, she says.
“We still do get calls to George Little Park,” she said.
And she points out that George Little Park aside, dealing with public intoxication and its effects in Terrace involves far more than having police intervene.
“Public intoxication in Terrace is prevalent. It’s an issue, it’s a community issue,” said Rabut with shelters, counselling and other services all playing a role.
“The more tools we have the better,” said Rabut.
“I can tell you that addictions issues in this town are still very draining on our resources.”
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The Seventh-day Adventist Church is noting the fifth anniversary of its purchase of the carpenters hall with a luncheon Dec. 23.