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Feeling unsafe in downtown Edmonton? You're not alone, report says

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2019-02-28 Natasha Riebe
a man wearing glasses: Coun. Scott McKeen says permanent supportive housing and more resources for mental health and addictions are key to a safer-feeling city. © Trevor Wilson/CBC Coun. Scott McKeen says permanent supportive housing and more resources for mental health and addictions are key to a safer-feeling city.

Edmonton's homelessness, theft and harassment issues seem to be getting worse, suggests a new report released by the Downtown Business Association.

The association released a report Wednesday called Safety and Security in Downtown Edmonton, based on input from 60 participants at a workshop in November 2018.

"Challenges linked to people experiencing homelessness are intensifying across Edmonton," the report said.

The findings are based on input from participants, including representatives from the City of Edmonton, the police service, community leagues, property managers, EPCOR, universities and downtown residents.

The report said business owners are frustrated with more homeless people using their areas for rest, shelter or warmth.

The report also said most people who are homeless are not dangerous.

Coun. Scott McKeen, whose Ward 6 is centred downtown, cited possible reasons for the increased perception of homelessness: economic conditions, opioids, and less open space downtown.

"'This is stupid that we have not solved this issue.'"- Coun. Scott McKeen

"If the despair in our city is more visible, I'm not unhappy about that," he told CBC News Wednesday. "Edmontonians need to know it's there and they need to push their MLAs and their members of Parliament and their city councillors to fix this problem."

The report also suggested that people's understanding of homelessness and its causes are one of the biggest challenges.

The workshop participants identified a lack of affordable housing and resources to be the likely root cause of the problem.

The report came out one day after Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson again called on provincial and federal governments to help fund affordable housing.

That's an area that McKeen and other councillors say they have been focusing on for several years.

"I'm getting a little frustrated," McKeen said. "This is stupid that we have not solved this issue. It's on all of us, in a way, but it's certainly on government to solve this and communicate it well."

McKeen noted several times that the police and health care system spends billions on homelessness and mental health-related issues.

Theft, harassment, graffiti

The workshop also discussed theft, panhandling, harassment and graffiti as a few areas of focus.

The business association report said "little is being done" to curb theft.

a group of people in a room: Natasha Riebe/CBC © Natasha Riebe/CBC Natasha Riebe/CBC

It takes police too long to respond to theft complaints, the workshop participants said. There is also a perception that theft is a low priority for police. 

The report suggested there is more graffiti downtown than there was last year.

When it comes to dealing with harassment complaints, police are under-resourced or unable to fully deal with the problem, the report said, and people shy away from certain areas because they fear being harassed.

"Perceptions do not always mesh with realities but are powerful determinants for people's preferences on where and when they go out."

The association said it wants to work with community groups to try to improve safety and and listed a number of steps, including building better relationships, more education and reporting issues to make sure they're documented properly.

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