BRITISH COLLUMBIA – Members of Business Improvement Areas of BC (BIABC) are today calling for urgent action from all three levels of government to deal with untenable street issues and crime plaguing communities across the province.
“We recognize there is a vulnerable population that suffers from addiction, mental health and homelessness in this province – and there is no disputing the need for our elected leaders to address those issues as a matter of urgency,” says Teri Smith, President of BIABC. “However, there is an immediate need to advocate for small business owners, their employees, and the communities they serve that are also being drastically impacted.”
While the issue of crime and public safety may be viewed by some as a Vancouver problem, it is clearly not, becoming increasingly prevalent in Fraser Valley communities like Langley, Abbotsford, and Surrey – On Vancouver Island – and in Interior and Northern centres like Prince George, Quesnel, Kamloops, Kelowna, and Penticton – among others.
“This is a collective crisis, and we need a collective response” says Smith, who is advocating for action by all three levels of government.
At the municipal level, BIABC is challenging all mayoral and council candidates in the October civic elections to make a commitment to support core funding that will mitigate main street issues through increased policing resources, street lighting, sanitation, and anti-graffiti programs, as well as stronger bylaw enforcement.
“Street disorder, open drug use, and mental health challenges have all been identified as the number one issue affecting our businesses in downtown Victoria. The negative impact on our economy, sense of safety among employees and customers, and the severe damage to our reputation are all reaching crisis levels. We need to admit that the current strategies are not working,” said Jeff Bray, Executive Director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association.
At the provincial level, BIABC is recommending a concerted plan to support individuals dealing with mental health, addictions and/or homelessness, actions to address the issue of prolific offenders, an examination of alternative justice options, increased police resources, implementation of assistance programs for victims of commercial crime, and improvement of the crime reporting process and response through E-COMM.
At the federal level, BIABC is advocating for the establishment of an all-party committee on Downtowns and Main Streets.
“Above all, we need a bi-partisan approach to this complex issue that is having a detrimental impact on us all, says Patricia Barnes, Advocacy Chair for BIABC. “Simply talking about these issues and deflecting to other levels of government is getting us nowhere.”
“The increase in demand for the Downtown Kelowna Association’s (DKA) On Street services continue to grow at an alarming rate. Our Downtown On-Call is experiencing unprecedented call volume from our member businesses and visitors to Downtown Kelowna to deal with individuals with drug and mental health issues. Our Clean Team is constantly cleaning, as the street population move from space to space, and escalating crime affects businesses via theft, break-and-enters and broken street facing windows. Most alarming and frustrating, is the rate of repeat break-ins and incidents performed by repeat offenders,” said Mark Burley, Executive Director of the Downtown Kelowna Association.
“Downtown Prince George joins our Business Improvement Areas of BC colleagues in seeking the support of all levels of government to work together to make our downtown and every downtown in our country better. The negative impact of crime and concerns for public safety is becoming more dire every day. Our property owners are losing tenants; our businesses are losing customers and staff; and both are faced with increased costs to either prevent vandalism or remediate vandalism. The well-being of downtown and all its citizens must become a priority for collective action and community-oriented solutions,” said Colleen Van Mook, Executive Director of the Downtown Prince George (Association).
BIABC is also seeking a seat at the table and to be part of the solution. As local grassroots organizations, BIA’s hold specialized knowledge and insight, as well as unique partnerships in community that may help challenge assumptions and generate out-of-the box solutions for all.
Business Improvement Areas of British Columbia (BIABC) is the provincial champion of strong, vibrant, and successful downtowns, main streets, and commercial districts throughout our province. Members together represent more than 70 business districts that employ hundreds of thousands of retail, service, and office employees within defined business districts. Mostly small- and medium-sized businesses, they are part of maintaining community excellence and the highest quality of livability.