Letters to the Editor:
Cold Weather Drop-In Centre
As the son of immigrant Italian parents, I was taught by word and by example that we should respect all people and their property. So, I write this letter in peace, without disregarding or disrespecting people whose life experience may have led them on a different path.
In a spirit of concern and collaboration, ten (10) organizations/agencies in our community have come together to establish ‘The Cold Weather Drop-In Centre’ at 66 Front Street. It opened Dec.2nd and operates 7 days a week from 9:00 a.m.- 5:00 p.m., offering hot soup from 11:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. each day. It also provides Coffee/Tea, Free Wi-Fi, Computer Access, Board & Card Games, Puzzles as well as Advocacy & Referrals. Everyone is welcome to this safe warm place to partake, sit and relax.
What a wonderful concept and what a great idea to help address the social issues that exist in our town, particularly during the winter months. However, sometimes the best laid plans go astray. More thought should have gone into the location of this Cold Weather Drop-In Centre, before the doors were ever opened.
Allow me to offer my comments, as an established 38-year downtown businessman, and owner of 64 Front Street adjacent to the new Drop-in Centre.
The need is great for this Centre, however; the location chosen for it, right in the middle of four businesses, Sioux Lottery, OATC, New Kowloon, Papa Don’s Pizza, and within 50 feet of the Sioux Seniors Activity Centre, could not have been a worse choice. Consideration should have been given to the anticipated implications of increased inappropriate public behaviour and activity on our main street.
This location in our already tired, vacated and toothless business core should not have been chosen without a conversation with all parties affected and serious consideration of the ramifications for the Municipality’s downtown. It has been two months since the opening and there has been no communication from the organizing group.
I compliment the ten organizations that stepped up and provided dollars or service for this very compassionate endeavour; however, there is also responsibility for on-going monitoring, reporting and evaluating of the operation to determine its success as well as the impacts it has on the adjacent businesses and Front Street.
I have been told that the nearby businesses were to be advised about the plans for this Drop-in center, as a courtesy. No prior information was provided by the Municipality nor did The Chamber of Commerce provide a heads-ups to its members. Certainly, that would have been helpful in providing the opportunity to voice our concerns and to identify a main point of contact.
Allow me to provide you with eyewitness incidents that my staff, my customers and I have experienced and related since December, all occurring within a few hundred feet of the Drop-In Centre entrance.
They include: Public intoxication, public consumption of alcohol, bootlegging, public urination and defecation, public fornication, indecent exposure, assaults and battery, fighting, large groups loitering on the sidewalk and in front of business doors, littering, vomiting, pan handling, citizen harassment, swearing, screaming, spitting and an unbelievable increase in the frequency of ambulance and police calls to this block in the centre of our downtown in the past two months.
I won’t elaborate with more detail but allow me to say that these incidents are not isolated; in fact, they are recurring incidents that playout throughout the day starting before opening while the guests wait and continue long after closing while they linger. These incidents are all occurring in full public view, in the sight of all who do business in the downtown core, at Restaurants, Drug Store, Banks, Treatment Centre, Lottery Centre, Training Center and Seniors Activity Centre.
This is chasing away the customers that we have. It has already affected pedestrian traffic. People are afraid to come downtown, experiencing physical fear and anxiety about whether they can walk about freely or access a business.
I have tried as a business owner to work with the assembled groups who loiter in front of my store and the adjacent business, sitting on my window ledges, blocking pedestrian traffic, dumping or leaving coffee cups and soup bowls on the ground and behaving inappropriately. I have gone outside on many occasions and asked that they respect my property and the pedestrians and not block the doorways as it discourages our customers. I remind them to dispose of their cups and bowls appropriately and to move along or go back inside. I am met with compliance and minimal pushback, but the problem returns in very short order, with the same or a different group of Drop-In Centre guests.
The allowing of ‘Take- Out’ coffee cups has created another issue. Quite often guests group outside the door to have/share a cigarette with their coffee. The coffee cups are just left outside, or often poured out onto the sidewalk/ground, with the cups being used for other ‘beverages’ and toted around under the guise of ‘coffee’. The evidence of littering is prolific—again, another unintended outcome of a very well-intended Drop-In Centre.
I have been told that this location is in place only until April 1, 2020. Yes, that is only a short time; however, this negative behaviour continues to remain on full display for all citizens and visitors. I am confident to say that these outcomes were not anticipated, but it is precisely what is occurring, and I assume it will go on unabated for the coming months. This is discouraging people from doing business or opening new business in our downtown. Our indifference to this situation will only add to our already existing issues in Sioux Lookout. With all our concerns about, and intentions for improvement to the downtown, how can this decision be a step in the right direction?
I, for one, am concerned and will not give up on our downtown. I want to remain relevant by voicing these concerns to the people and the decision-makers of our community.
I urge The Municipality, The Chamber, KDSB and all the organizations/agencies involved with this endeavour, to consider the ramifications of having located this Cold- Weather Drop-In Centre smack dab in the middle of our downtown core and take necessary steps to relocate it.