Downtown St. Thomas business owners fed up with drug abuse, vagrancy
ST. THOMAS, ONT. -- The belongings of a man sit in front of St. Thomas’s post office, a frequent spot to rest, for the railway city’s most vulnerable.
The man is only a short distance away. Ironically, so is a group of business owners.Just steps from their stores and restaurants, they gathered to speak with social agencies, the police and the mayor.
Their mission: to brainstorm over - what they say - is a growing problem with drug and alcohol abuse, along with loitering.
“It’s sad what’s going on,” Patti Mugford-Pooley tells CTV News. Her shoe store is just one of many business near Mary Street, where owners tell the same story.
To begin with, they all express compassion for the estimated four-dozen people in ongoing need, in and around the downtown core. However, they also talk of frustration with a day shelter on the same block.
Created in response to the pandemic, Mugford-Pooley states it has added to an existing environment of leery customers and frightened staff.
“We come in and see who’s laying at our back door, or who has relieved themselves overnight, or what they’ve collected”.
Another business owner states, “I’ve had to charge people with criminal mischief. I’ve had to install cameras around my building.”
While another told the gathering, “We understand they have a problem. We do not hold that against them at all. But we all need to find a common solution and work together on this.”
St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston is promising numerous actions plans on the social and safety front, including a possible addiction hub. But when it comes to enforcement, he admits, there’s little the city can do.
“There is not a legal response to it.”
Staff-Sergeant Kyle Johnstone, of the St. Thomas Police Service concurs. “The only recourse for us is issuing a ticket. It is a $65 ticket, that unfortunately this demographic doesn’t have the money to pay, they know that, we know that.”
The head of the city’s overnight shelter says her group is looking to put more people on the street to counsel and enforce.
Lori Fitzgerald, of ‘Inn Out of the Cold,’ says training has already begun. “Their role will be to engage with the people you are finding at the back doors, move them on. But, as our officer already alluded to, the issue is, where do you move them to?”
It’s a question Preston posed to the business owners repeatedly during the hour long informal meeting.
He asked for volunteers to help the city face the challenge, while at-the-same-time promising to provide new information and concrete action on the problem, early next week.