LETHBRIDGE -- First, the city heard from parents who were concerned about the volume of needles and drug paraphernalia in parks and school grounds. The next round is about to start, and this time, it's businesses that are at the end of their rope.
Doug Hamilton, owner of Hamilton's Carpet One which is located across the alley from the ARCHES supervised consumption site, has seen a 50 per cent drop in business.
Hamilton makes it clear that he isn't opposed to the site, but he wants to see a plan to deal with the peripheral issues and he doesn't believe the city or ARCHES have a plan or are working towards one.
The business owner sent a letter (posted at bottom of story) to Mayor Chris Spearman, outlining his problems.
"Just overall, the amount of people that are hanging around (his building) from the consumption site - I understand there's a problem and I'm all for harm reduction, but ARCHES doesn't have a plan to deal with the people that are coming, so the movement of the people has jumped in the area - eight, nine, 10 people at a time, moving in packs and then hanging around, and the amount of garbage and debris - they scare the customers and my staff."
According to Hamilton, he's had customers phone the store and say they are afraid to come into the store or they have had to escort customers into the building.
"They still want to do business with us, we've been here (in Lethbridge) 73 years, four generations of Hamilton's, and we do have a decent clientele, but my customers are mostly women who are into fashion and design their houses, who are walk-in traffic, and they are afraid to walk 50 to 60 feet into the building."
After spending a significant amount of money on a new building and landscaping it to city standards, Hamilton then had to cut back newly planted trees and shrubs which have become hangout locations for those from the consumption site. Every morning, he walks the perimeter of his business, picking up tossed clothing, drug paraphernalia, liquor bottles, used condoms and other garbage left behind by users. The front windows of his store have also been broken.
Hamilton says the mayor attended his store to speak with him but didn't respond to his concerns.
"He spoke to me for about five minutes and explained that (the site is) saving lives but nothing about how he is going to help me or the community in the area deal with the problem."
While the mayor defined the issue as one of "long-term", Hamilton noted he could be out of business within a year.
"If they had a system that was managing the people or something that I could do to even help but, I haven't been approached and the mayor doesn't seem to be interested in the impact on business."
Hamilton says there are security guards in the area, but "the problem is so big and they're just there to move people around, not to have them use the site and then leave the area - they are allowed to accumulate in my parking lot and up against the building."
"We're down about 50 per cent in walk-in traffic, and maybe a bit more, and that's what we live on - we live on the retail side of the business, we also do commercial but, I could do that from my house - I don't need a store to do it but, to have customers not come because they're afraid!"
It means customers will look to the big box stores where they are less likely to be harassed instead of supporting local business.
This isn't a NIMBY issue. Hamilton wants everyone to be safe: the consumption site clients, his staff and customers. He simply wants to see a service delivery or client management plan to deal with the issues. While ARCHES may offer harm reduction, there is no clear plan for rehabilitation for those using the services or what to do with the clients who leave he premises.
"ARCHES doesn't have anything on their website - I haven't been invited to meeting and I know there's a meeting there every Thursday at the start of the month but, there's no agenda or personal invitation or me being allowed to talk to them. It's more like what happened this week at the Monday night meeting at the college with all the harm reduction specialists but, nothing about how to deal with the people themselves."
"What I found from that meeting," said Hamilton, "is just that this is a crisis, this is how we're going to deal with it, we're just going to do this and you have to live with it - that's what I found from that meeting."
Hamilton is in the process of putting up expensive fencing at his store. Other businesses in the area are dealing with similar issues and one has gone to the length of putting roll shutters on all of their storefront windows. He wants to hear from other businesses affected by these issues and he wants to see their concerns brought forward.
Hamilton's letter to the mayor:
"Dear Mayor Spearman,
As a member of the business community in close proximity to the Safe Injection Site, I attended the Monday night meeting at the Lethbridge College anticipating a chance to voice my concerns, and was discouraged that only approximately 10 minutes was allowed to do that. Hamilton’s Carpet One has been in business supporting the local economy in the City of Lethbridge since 1945 and is now in it’s 4th generation. I understand that there is an opioid crisis and know that we need a harm reduction strategy. What I do not understand is why it has to come at the expense of the local businesses that have been supporting this city for decades.
Here are my concerns:
-Hamilton’s walk in traffic is down approximately 50%
-We have to keep extra staff on hand for security measures, which costs money
-Our customers are harassed by people using the Safe Injection Site and no longer want to come in to the store
-Pedestrian and vehicle traffic is being chased away from the area
-The safety & mental well being of my customers, staff and myself
-If the city is consistently looking for new business to move to our city, why are they not taking care of the ones that are here?
When we built our new building approximately 10 years ago, the city encouraged us to put in grass and trees to beautify the area. We complied and now the trees and bushes will have to be cut down, as there are people sleeping and hiding drugs etc. in the branches. The grass is dying from being trampled on. The sprinkler heads are constantly broken and it too costs money to fix them, therefore I won’t be fixing them any longer. Windows are constantly broken and have to be replaced. I had to remove all exterior electrical outlets because they were being used to charge phones, etc. at a cost to me of $1100.00. I have had to order a back security fence now for a cost of $6000.00
Every morning I walk my property, clean up discarded clothes, condoms, food, drugs and drug paraphernalia. Just this morning I received a call from a customer saying she had wanted to come into my store, but there were 7 people on my lawn shooting up and she was afraid. I had to go out, chase them away and escort her into the building.
Mr. Mayor, you have said that you have visited the businesses in the area, but as we are right behind the site, why haven’t you come to see us? I invite you to spend a day in my store, watching out the windows as to what is really happening. The drug deals, trespassing, fights, prostitution, bullying, panhandling, abuse and harassment are ongoing all day long. I am in daily communication with Lethbridge Police Service. I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss these concerns with you in person or by phone."
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