Groups of homeless people are blocking access to downtown businesses with their “parade” of shopping carts, driving away customers and harassing staff, complain some Red Deer bar owners.
The sight of a long line-up of carts and stollers piled with personal belongings near Turning Point on Thursday, was the last straw for David Mah, owner of Club X-Static, and Jean Cote, manager of Bell Fever Lounge, who want the city and harm reduction group to do something about the problem.
Both are tired of downtown businesses and staff shouldering more than their share of Red Deer’s homeless and drug problems because social service agencies are in their midst.
The problem is growing with the opioid epidemic, said Cote, who’s been so afraid of walking through gatherings of 10 or transient people outside her business that she has sometimes resorted to using the back door — only to find more drunk or high people hanging out there.
Since many homeless people have mental health issues and addictions, they are unpredictable, and customers and staff are leery, Cote added.
Mah recalled a woman on a bicycle rode by his club three weeks ago and sprayed his customers with bear spray for no apparent reason.
Other transient types are often asking for spare change or cigarettes, which makes people feel uncomfortable, so they stay away, he added. “It’s tough to run a business with all these people begging for money whenever a customer comes to the door.”
If adequate housing can’t be found, Mah suggests that a daytime shelter be opened so they have an option other than gathering front of the bars near Turning Point. If there was a warm place with televisions sets, perhaps they would spend less time on the downtown streets, he added.
Cote said the situation has conditioned her to always watch for needles when she leaves Bell Fever Lounge. She once came across an abandoned backpack full of needles, a cooking stove and drug paraphernalia. She recalled notifying the Downtown Business Association, who called Turning Point, but no one came for it, so she asked a staff member to throw it out.
She’s worried that Turning Point will succeed in getting a permanent safe consumption site set up in its building, worsening the problem.
Cote and Mah admit they aren’t sure what the answer is, but would like authorities to seek solutions.
Turning Point officials could not be reached for comment.
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said she’s very much aware of the safety and needle debris issues in the downtown as several “emergency meetings” have already been held about these concerns. They will be discussed further on Wednesday, at a meeting arranged by the Downtown Business Association that city officials will attend.
Veer hopes some solutions will be found.