Social ills tied to downtown’s problems

What kind of city are we living in?

What kind of city are we living in?

It’s a question that begs an answer, a question recently posed by Ferraro Foods employee Shane Ferraro after an employee was threatened and he was accosted at gunpoint; fortunately it was only a cap gun.

Coincidently, the downtown opportunities and action committee held its inaugural meeting and asked essentially the same question – both responses were not good.

Ferraro compared downtown Trail to East Hastings, a Vancouver area notorious for its homelessness, poverty and drug trade, and members of the committee “made it absolutely clear that downtown Trail is deteriorating in many ways: esthetically, physically, economically and socially.”

Despite the incredible efforts of individuals and groups like Communities in Bloom, residents are fed up and downtown businesses, the ones that still hang on, agree that the core needs work.

A Jan. 10 letter to the editor by Dale Evans referred to a series of efforts, projects and good intentions initiated by the city that invariably went awry, allegedly at too much cost and with too little planning.

As buildings and bridges decay, so do residents’ faith in the political process and the effective use of tax dollars. As crime and vandalism increases, so does our anger and mistrust of policing and courts.

The city may be feeling the heat and with Trail council coming up to budget time and preparing to re-polish the official community plan, it is faced with even more expensive decisions: build a bridge, revitalize its core, tackle emergency housing, amalgamation studies, sewage treatment, build a skateboard park and so on.

But before embarking on cosmetic urban facelifts, the city should take a hard look at the unseemly core of its increasingly problematic social issues.

Kevin Jolly, the action committee chair, sees the recruitment of Gordon Sims, the city’s crime prevention officer, as crucial to the whole enterprise.

“If you’re going to be doing economic development and redevelopment in the downtown area, one of the challenges is safety,” said Jolly.

“We want to make sure the streets are safe and people feel comfortable coming downtown to spend money.”

A greater police presence would undoubtedly be beneficial, but arresting the homeless, mentally ill or even drug addicts, does not exactly strike at the heart of the problem.

The FAIR Society met last month to Remember and Take Action to End Violence Against Women. The dominant theme pointed to the lack of affordable or emergency housing available on a full time basis for battered women and homeless people.

“The issue of homeless keeps on coming up over and over again, we’ve got to do something about it,” said FAIR’s Anne Godderis. “There are absolutely appalling conditions people are living in right now.”

To its credit, city council has formed a committee on emergency housing and is looking into funding to address the problem but as always there are bureaucratic hoops.

“It (emergency housing) is a vital part of restructuring, there are hopes that it should come into the forefront,” said committee member and city councillor Eleanor Gattafoni Robinson.

Unfortunately, as Gattafoni Robinson acknowledged, the bureaucratic process moves at a glacial pace therefore working in conjunction with the “action” committee may help catalyze the process.

Councillor Al Graham, an emergency housing committee member, informed members of the action committee of the FAIR meeting and, in addition to housing, the need for accessible services, better public transportation, improved lighting and cameras, as well as visible police foot patrols.

The action committee is comprised mainly of individuals from local business interests and municipal government, but the exclusion of social groups such as FAIR and the emergency housing committee is a severe oversight.

Let’s hope dealing with Trail’s social ills becomes a priority for the downtown committee. Solving social problems is likely impossible, but mitigating them by offering more options than just eating off the sidewalk is a start.

The action committee should include experienced representatives of FAIR, PLP, Salvation Army and others as part of the revitalization planning committee.

Before spending $20 million for a new bridge or slapping a new coat of paint on the Gulch, invest in Trail’s crumbling human infrastructure; it will pay dividends in the end.

———

Jim Bailey is a reporter with the Times