Red Deer chiropractor Darren Pohl had to fix a window broken by vagrants two weeks ago. Last September, the glass door to his downtown clinic was smashed.
“Every day I come to work I’m glad nothing else has been busted,” said Pohl, whose Heritage Chiropractic Clinic is a parking lot away from Safe Harbour’s temporary homeless shelter in the former Cannery Row Bingo site.
Given the 1,350-name petition that’s been circulating to push city council to allow the shelter to remain at this location, north of Superstore, Pohl believes many Red Deerians either don’t understand or don’t sympathize with the daily struggles of many downtown business owners with vandalism and vagrancy.
“None of us are saying these people don’t need help,” said Diana Rude, who owns a bridal business near the shelter.
“There needs to be something in place to help them out,” she added, “but it shouldn’t be up to downtown business owners to be shouldering all these problems, with increased insurance costs, the loss of profits…”
Pohl added he’s empathetic to the plight of the homeless and people with addictions, but his sympathy has been worn down by endless crime, garbage and disturbances.
“A patient came in the other day and said there’s somebody in the parking lot who looks like he (pooped) his pants and is right out of it, walking around like a zombie…” Pohl recalled.
“People don’t want to see that,” added the chiropractor, who believes some patients have not returned because of his clinic’s location in the midst of graffiti, debris and used needles.
“If you think it isn’t a big deal, I would say put this shelter in your neighbourhood and see how you see it then,” Pohl added.
Rude said she’s glad about the warmer weather as she doesn’t have to keep calling the authorities to remove people sleeping in the building’s foyer during cold winter afternoons.
Both business owners are discouraged about the absence of community support, and tired of people calling them “heartless.”
Tracy Chabot, who owns several downtown spaces, wrote an opinion piece for the Advocate saying people need to stop bashing property owners. She added, merchants are only trying to make a living, save for their pensions, and contribute to the community as employers.
“Heaping the burden on downtown businesses is not the answer, nor is vilifying downtown business owners.”
Rude has read comments on social media blaming people like her for being unfair to the vulnerable. “It feels bad to hear that because we are trying to keep this area vibrant,” she said.
Last week, she and Pohl saw an entire dumpster full of garbage scattered by some shelter clients, who were going through it.
“I have my life savings invested in my business,” said Pohl, who can’t easily relocate like others who ended their downtown leases and moved to Gasoline Alley, south of Red Deer. He’s noticed a nearby commercial site has been listed for sale for months, to scant buyer interest.
Rude is in the same position: “My space wouldn’t sell for half of what I bought it for. Nobody would be willing to invest and open up a business here.”
They hope Red Deerians will consider this perspective before the City of Red Deer holds a public hearing on whether to relocate the temporary shelter on May 25.
City council gave initial approval to allowing the shelter to remain at the Cannery Row location for at least another year, with enhanced clean up in the area, but is waiting to hear from the public before discussing final approval. A report from administration had stated that Safe Harbour can’t relocate the shelter in a tight time limit of two months, which council had previously ordered.
Pohl doubts he will bother calling in with his opinion, saying nothing ever changes.