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Stolen bike at safety meeting symbolic of growing downtown Courtenay concern

Business owners, elected officials, police discuss safety and security
Some people feel the Connect Warming Centre should be located farther from downtown. File photo

In an ironic twist, Courtenay resident Lucie Himmelova had her bike, stolen while she was attending a recent safety and security meeting between downtown business owners, elected officials, police and the Medical Health Officer.

Himmelova had left her bike unlocked while attending the meeting.

After the meeting, Courtenay Fire Chief Kurt MacDonald took her by car to the Connect Warming Centre — which supports individuals experiencing homelessness, and was a focal point of discussion at the meeting.

Himmelova approached a man standing outside the building. She showed him a photo of the bike, and he said it was inside. The man retrieved the bike and presented it to her, with no apology. She was taken aback that he did not ask any of the individuals standing outside who brought the bike to the centre.

“My question is, ‘Are they (homeless) under the same law as we are?’ Yes, they are,” Himmelova said.

Old Farm Market store manager Rick Gaiga, who also attended the meeting, said everyone’s affected differently downtown. In his case, it’s dealing with stolen shopping carts. Since opening last year at 6th and England, the grocery has lost thousands of dollars in stolen buggies.

“It’s a big chunk of money,” said Gaiga, who notes the presence of buggies from other local grocers when he’s running around town trying to locate his. He has considered implementing a coin or magnetic system that would help keep buggies in the parking lot, but that would be more expensive than replacing them.

Many attendees said homeless numbers have increased since the Connect Centre opened at 685 Cliffe Ave. The overwhelming sentiment is that it needs to be located farther from downtown. Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells reminded the crowd that it is a temporary location.

“It’s (Connect) been bringing crime, this is too close to children,” said a day care operator, who notes several day cares are close to the downtown core. “I’m concerned abut the safety of children in our community.”

A long-time Courtenay resident who lives near the downtown core canvassed his neighbourhood to gather opinions about the state of things. He found that residents are angry, and virtually all of them said they don’t feel safe. In recent weeks, he said the number of break-and-enters has been “off the charts.”

He feels there’s a lack of communication from Courtenay City Hall. He would like to see city council and staff tour the neighbourhood to see what’s going on.

“Everybody supports mental health services,” the resident said. “(But) We’re kept out of the loop. My big problem is we’re not included in the process. We need transparency.”

Some neighbours proposed solutions. For the Warming Centre, one person suggested the old Canadian Tire store could have contained all services, including Overdose Prevention Services.

“For the most part, everybody’s mad,” the resident added. “The day’s coming where someone’s going to be injured. Where’s the compassion for the people whose houses have been broken into?”

The Record has reached out to Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells, Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard, and Courtenay Downtown BIA for additional comments.

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