It’s not only the ByWard Market that needs help with safety and security, business leaders say

ByWard Market BIA

While a new city report aimed at revitalizing the ByWard Market is in the works, local business officials argue that other areas of Ottawa are experiencing similar challenges to those in the Market.

Next week, the city’s finance and corporate services committee will consider recommendations from staff that include creating a new entity to manage the ByWard Market and potentially an area-specific tax to help revitalize the area as a top tourist destination.

Under the recommendations, the ByWard Market BIA and the municipal corporation overseeing the area, Ottawa Markets, would be dissolved in favour of a new municipal corporation called the ByWard Market District Authority (BMDA). Its mandate would include “enhancing the resident and visitor experience” and supporting property and business interests in the ByWard and Parkdale markets.

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The recommendations include initiatives to “improve community safety and well-being” in the area, which will “design, resource and implement a sustainable, in-the-field community safety and well-being program for the benefit of the district and its adjoining neighbourhoods.”

The recommendations require approval from committee members, then from city council.

However, the problems being experienced in the Market extend further than that area of the city, said Michelle Groulx, executive director at the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas.

For example, business owners across many communities are seeing the same challenges around homelessness and crime, she said. 

“BIAs are seeing needles and feces on the streets and people who are experiencing mental health and addictions that are not safe to themselves or to others,” Groulx said. “They can be abusive verbally, or even physically.

“It has become a challenge for staff safety,” she explained. “Let alone the impact of consumers simply avoiding areas.”

The Chinatown BIA has seen an increase in crime and violence, Groulx continued, and several incidents have occurred in Westboro.

“We just heard from a business on Richmond Road that has had a number of incidents recently, including smashed windows on the door (and) challenging situations when staff appeared to be on their own, culminating in someone exposing themselves to a staff member.”

Encampments are also posing challenges to commercial properties, even in areas as far outside the core as Kanata, said Groulx. People experiencing homelessness have been camping in areas such as loading docks or storefronts, she said.

Programs to support people living with mental health and addiction issues are necessary, she said, but any proposals are “Band-Aid fixes” without affordable and supportive housing, she said. 

“Where do people go when they are picked up for any disturbances? The individual who is picked up for any major issue is back the next day and the next,” she explained. “There is no long-term help and support and it is desperately needed.” 

Plans such as those under development for the ByWard Market should be expanded into other communities, though perhaps “not as intense,” Groulx said.

For example, one BIA that could benefit from similar support is Bank Street. Christine Leadman, director of the Bank Street BIA, agrees that a “fulsome” approach to the issues is needed.

“It’s way bigger than any one organization. We have health centres and services and they’re trying, but they’re so understaffed and underfunded,” said Leadman. “There are obviously these little social agencies trying their best, but they’re all scattered around trying to fix a huge problem.

“We need a strategy that deals with where (the issues) stem from. It’s a lack of housing, lack of support for mental health, addiction, a lot of problems with mental health when people are self-medicating with street drugs, which is so dangerous,” she continued. 

“It’s a disease and it’s not being treated as such … It’s been a frustrating several years of trying to address it and bring focus to it.”

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