The business community is frustrated but resilient and looks forward to being part of the solution as Nanaimo deals with rising crime and social disorder.
Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce CEO Kim Smythe presented to Nanaimo city councillors a 25-page report on the chamber’s findings following a field survey of businesses near a supportive housing complex on Labieux Road. Smythe made his presentation Oct. 28 at a committee of the whole meeting.
“Businesses and residents are facing critical issues with rising crime and a sense of social disruption that seems beyond control,” Smythe said.
He said the chamber first surveyed businesses within a kilometre of the supportive housing on Terminal Avenue, then surveyed businesses around Labieux “where we found even more discouraging results.”
The report notes that crime problems around Labieux Road “have increased dramatically” as well as panhandling, drug activity and “customer confrontations.” The chamber finds that most businesses have increased security measures through video surveillance or staff vigilance. According to the chamber report, Save-On-Foods at Brooks Landing is seeing more than $10,000 worth of meat stolen every month and Save-On-Foods at Country Club Centre is losing $1,000 a day to theft and had more than two dozen carts stolen in one two-week span. At Dollar Tree, eight people were caught stealing in a two-and-a-half hour period.
The chamber report also touched on situations in the Old City Quarter and downtown, and summarized the Citizens Want Nanaimo Back meeting this fall at the Nanaimo Entertainment Centre, as well as a meeting of mall managers at Woodgrove Centre this past summer.
“We have a multiplicity of problems on our hands and it’s time to acknowledge and confront the beast on several levels,” Smythe said.
The report made numerous recommendations, asking for continued pressure on senior levels of government, participation in upcoming pilot projects in partnership with the B.C. Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, acknowledgment of substance abuse as a public health issue, investment in crime prevention and enforcement, and more.
“Unfortunately, I think it’s not information that is new to this council,” said Coun. Erin Hemmens after hearing the chamber report. “It’s something that we continue to struggle with.”
She said the city’s task force on health and housing continues to work toward solutions and said the city has made it known to the province that it is interested in participating in any innovative pilot programs.
Coun. Ian Thorpe said the chamber’s report is a reminder that the city’s problems have an economic impact as well as a social impact.
“They are huge problems to deal with,” he said. “We hear a lot from our residents, but I think it’s also important that we hear the voice of the business community, and the business community has been extremely patient as we try to find solutions or work toward solutions and we all recognize that’s not going to be easy or quick.”
Mayor Leonard Krog noted that not everybody who is experiencing homelessness is addicted to drugs, dealing with mental health issues or engaging in criminal behaviour, but said there is a correlation that cannot be ignored. He said the city is sympathetic to the business community’s concerns and supportive and appreciative of the chamber of commerce’s work.
“Council is very conscious of those in the community who operate businesses in what are difficult times, facing this social disorder [and] are very conscious of the fact that some of them face particular burdens,” he said.
Coun. Tyler Brown added that there continues to be confusion in the community about “who’s responsible for what” when it comes to social issues.
“But at the end of the day, everybody wants answers and we’re all in this together,” he said.