It is a cycle that repeats over and over again – It is time to break that cycle

A cycle that needs to be broken

A cycle that needs to be brokenThunder Bay – Crimebeat – There are three Thunder Bays… one is the beautiful place we all love, one is the dark night side with crime, drugs and problems, and then there is the reality. In many ways, it is a cycle that repeats, over and over again. It is actually a sad commentary on our society.

You might not even know what is happening at night in parts of our city, unless you are there to witness it.

Remember how, as a child, if you were scared of the dark your parents likely told you there is nothing there at night that isn’t there during the day? The same does not hold true for all the streets of Thunder Bay at night.

The streets of the city at night, in the downtown Fort William core for example are interesting places. There is a lot more going on at night than there is during the day. Some of it is not that good. After the businesses close, after the government offices are closed, and after most of the people go home, the area starts changing.

The area becomes a place where some who abuse drugs and alcohol gather. Once it is dark, it is a whole new experience. By morning, chances are most people will not know what has happened, the city crews will have cleaned up much of the mess.

Well, kind of… the city crews clean up around one area, the focal point for the drinking, and the entrance to Victoriaville is cleaned up too. Other areas are left. As you walk the sidewalks first thing in the morning, where the crews have cleaned up, all looks well.

It isn’t.

Fort William Business District

The list of incidents involving the police over the past months, in the heart of the downtown Fort William Business District is a long one. On July the 4th there was an assault. On July 6th there was a liquor licence act offense. On July 11th there was a disorder call, July 12th there was another. On July 13th there was a liquor offense, and an assault. Another disorder incident on July 14th and then a drug charge laid on July 15th.

July 16th it was another liquor offense, followed by assaults on the 18th, 20th, 21st, 22nd as well as a weapons offense on the 22nd as well. It was quiet for a few days, then a liquor offense on the 25th, an assault and a disorder offense on the 27th.

Through August the crime rates are similar. You can check the latest reports on Crime Mapping on NetNewsledger. A tip, click on the crime types and add the property crime, liquor and alcohol offenses. They are not included in the default settings.

[captionpix imgsrc=”http://www.netnewsledger.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/crimemay-August2012.jpeg” alt=”Downtown crime map” captiontext=”Crimemapping showing the crime in the past month in the downtown south core” width=”620″ height=”351″]

If you consider the cost to Thunder Bay taxpayers for Police Officers to fill in the reports, file the paperwork, and later to attend court, that tab is growing.

The business-owners, who remain in the area, are also left to clean up any messes which gathered in front of their businesses over night. For those who drink, the corner of Brodie Street and Victoria Avenue East is a gathering point.

To be blunt, it is a legal licenced business, and they are certainly allowed to be there. In fact they are likely doing better than many of the businesses around them.

It is a Wednesday night/Thursday morning downtown in the south core – at 03:00AM, about an hour after last call, there are people passed out in doorways, alleyways, or staggering off. Sometimes if you walk the neighbourhood later in the day, you can find evidence of where they ended up for the night.

For the past four hours, a steady stream of people have gathered, argued, fought and demonstrated that alcohol is not a part of their lives but rather the master of their lives. The situation is supplemented by drugs.

Earlier that evening, Victoria Avenue East was wafted in the sickly sweet smell of marijuana smoke. It was strongly evident. Through the past several nights, it certainly appeared that there were individuals conducting business – selling drugs.

Other times, during the daylight hours you can witness the sale of other ‘recreational pharmaceuticals’. It is simple economics, there is demand, and it is being supplied.

From 2:25AM until 2:55AM, several people attempted to get one individual up and on his way as he sat, passed out in a doorway. No one could get him moving, and the man was left alone. At 03:00AM a police car arrived on the street, an unmarked car, and the intoxicated individual was observed by the officers, who drove off a minute later. He was not picked up and taken to the drunk-tank. He was left passed out in the doorway.

One might suppose that this is such a regular occurrence that the officers simply didn’t want to take the individual into custody. That was not the case, at O3:21AM, another police unit arrived and tried to wake the man. He was not easily stirred by the officers.

He was that intoxicated. For him, the rescue by officers of the Thunder Bay Police Service, something that has apparently happened before, at least from what the officers were saying, was just the climax to a night of over consuming alcohol.

A pedestrian walked by very quickly, as another unit arrived on the scene. “Wake up, wake up, get up” – those were the words of the police officer. The man, slurring his words could not stand up. The officers assisted the man to his feet, and took him into custody.

Another arrest statistic for Thunder Bay.

The officers were very professional. In many cases, officers know who the individuals are, often many are repeat offenders – many likely will, once in the back of a moving police car vomit in the car. It is a frustrating situation for officers, yet still they act with complete professionalism.

Between 3:30AM and 4:00AM the people drift off, many times mickey bottles and individual beer bottles are left on the streets and sidewalks, many times they are smashed.

Thunder Bay has issues with abuse of alcohol. That is well known. However, there is only one full time liquor inspector and one part time liquor inspector for the entire Northwestern Ontario region.

Programs like SmartServe, and Ontario legislation are in place to protect bar patrons from making irresponsible decisions while drinking. The legislation places the onus on the bar, and the servers. It is supported by court decisions that are far more widespread than they were originally. Sources tell NetNewsledger.com that over-serving of alcohol is seen as a wide-spread problem.

One of the solutions would be to have greater training and greater enforcement. (www.canlii.org)

All of this leaves those who are struggling with social issues, to spent another night, fight an lose another battle, and often they are lost to their addiction?

The impact of the large number of intoxicated individuals can be witnessed by the impact on local shops along Victoria Avenue East. Closed signs out-number open signs. Even though the problems usually happen at night, the reputation is spreading. Many people do not come downtown anymore. Many seniors in the area are bothered by the people at the doorway of Victoriaville when they try to enter the mall.

In fact one fairly vivid demonstration is there is only two banks left downtown. The Scotia Bank at May and East Victoria Avenue and the CIBC on Brodie and Victoria are the only banks left downtown. The RBC and BMO have left. There is no Toronto Dominion. Further down the way, the Credit Union at Simpson and Victoria Ave East is empty.

Banks are the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for businesses. When banks leave, it is a strong sign that things are not as well as they could be.

One Saturday night it was 2:30AM and a large group of people gathered, and were arguing, pushing shoving and yelling. It could easily have become a situation that could have gone out of control. Two units from the Thunder Bay Police arrived on the scene and were able to settle things down.

for sale or rent

The contrast to the Thunder Bay North downtown core is stark.

The Fort William core is far darker it appears there are far fewer people compared to the Port Arthur downtown core. Part of that is lighting. In the downtown core in the Fort William BIA, the streets are lined with trees. It is frankly put, a neat atmosphere for the downtown core, the trees and the plants help freshen the air and give a natural look to the area. However the street lights are often in the leaves of the trees and their light is muted greatly by that fact. It makes the area less bright at night.

Bluntly put, during the day the streets are likely the envy of many other cities. It is a charming area that should be full of small shops, places to gather and enjoy.

One of the contrasts to the North Ward are in the bright lights. Plus the waterfront re-development which has young families flocking to the core. The entertainment district is usually bustling with people. The streets are often lined with cars. That activity impacts the area, there are still issues with crime in the North core downtown, but overall the feeling in the north core is far move vibrant and alive at night.

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The courthouse will likely have an impact on the Fort William Business District. Likely once it opens, there will be a greater lunch crowd. There will also likely be a larger dinner crowd, at least for the early diners.

It is hard to say what the impact will be at night.

It is now 03:31AM; the streets are quiet again, until tomorrow where the cycle will start once again.

As the sun rises in the morning, by 06:15AM city workers are out clearing the debris and litter off the streets. That way, by the time tourists, business owners, and even city workers start arriving in the area, the night’s action appears long gone.

A cycle never-ending, but one it is time to break.

So how do we break that cycle? What are the solutions?

Several of the solutions are already being started. During the day, uniformed Thunder Bay Police Service Officers are walking a beat. They engage with people, stop and talk with business owners, and in general make people feel far more comfortable.

Victoriaville East Entrance

Perhaps moving the community policing office from inside of Victoriaville by the food court to a more visible location would be a great start. There is a location on Brodie Street, right at the entrance to Victoriaville facing east, where the police could have a far greater visability in the neighbourhood.

Victoriaville Police Office

Just as the beat officers are making a change in the neighbourhood during the day, such a move as a twenty-four hour a day presense would likely change the dynamics of the area.

Other solutions would include a drop-in facility for people looking for alternatives to drinking, partying, alcohol and drugs. As well, the City of Thunder Bay is working toward the development of a youth centre in the downtown south core. That would allow the youth the opportunity to have a place to be, to hang out, and to access needed services.

Other solutions can be seen in efforts by residents to take back their neighbourhood. At the old CIBC bank location, people have taken back the empty lot and are making it a community space. While naysayers have said the space would quickly be messed up again, after ten days this summer it remains clean.

Community space at the CIBC lot on Victora Avenue East

One idea put forward by a youth member of the Regional Multicultural Youth Council would be establishing ‘Tire Gardens’ in the core. These would be colourful gardens that could offer the opportunity to grow potatoes, sage, sweet-grass, and other vegetables.

tiregarden-flowers

There are actually funding opportunities for projects like this that would help cover the costs. In terms of helping the Regional Food Bank, you can grow hundreds of pounds of potatoes in tires, and they could be harvested and help reduce the burden on food banks that are always looking for more food to relieve the stress caused by demands on their facilities.

Thunder Bay is working toward solutions, however in many ways, sometimes the urgency makes it seem that the city needs to move faster. From all reports, on many areas, the city is setting speed records in moving.

Those positive steps forward are, for a community that desperately needs to break the cycle, encouraging.

James Murray