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Council chips in $35K to help BIA with downtown safety concerns

Some of the discussion Tuesday was that Meridian Place 'is the core of our downtown and it’s become so unsafe right now,' says Coun. Bryn Hamilton
Meridian Place in downtown Barrie is shown in a file photo.

The Downtown Barrie BIA has been given $35,000 by city council to help deal with safety concerns and behaviour problems in and around Meridian Place.

By direct motion Wednesday night, council approved the funding.

This was after councillors heard about problems in the downtown at Tuesday’s public meeting on city measures to deal with chronic homelessness and enhancing public safety in Barrie.

“I think (Tuesday) night some of the dialogue really was that (Meridian Place) is the core of our downtown and it’s become so unsafe right now,” said Coun. Bryn Hamilton. “So I do think this is an urgent issue given some of the behaviours, aggressive behaviours, violent acts, open drug use, specifically in that area.

"I do think we need to deal with this ASAP," she added. 

Craig Stevens, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA), read from a letter (see below) the organization sent to city council on Tuesday.

“It is getting harder and harder to 'keep our heads up' as we make our way through downtown,” he said.

Coun. Sergio Morales said the problems are serious.

“This is the first time I saw on letterhead where the BIA was saying, yeah, we’ve got challenges’, signed by the board,” he said.

Coun. Craig Nixon, whose ward includes the downtown and who sits on the BIA board, introduced the direct motion that the Downtown Barrie BIA request funding to contribute to the downtown public realm investment initiatives to support the safety and well-being of the downtown area, that $35,000 be approved on a one-time basis and it be funded from the city’s re-investment reserves.

“The public has raised concerns about Meridian Place,” said Mayor Alex Nuttall. “The BIA is committing some of their own funds to try to help in that space (Meridian Place). I think it’s about being open, lit and encouraging productive behaviours

“The goal is to open it up and make sure that some of those behaviours we’re seeing, specifically behind the pink building and backing from the buildings on Dunlop Street, are discouraged,” the mayor added.

Both Hamilton and Coun. Jim Harris asked if there is a way to gauge the effectiveness of the measures council will be funding.

“My understanding is it’s going to pertain to some areas around the Meridian square and it’s one of those things that we won’t know what the effects of it will be until it’s done,” said Deputy Mayor Robert Thomson.

He elaborated more on Thursday in an interview with BarrieToday.

“The BIA are looking at a gamut of things to try to work on several issues,” Thomson said. “It’s at the (BIA) board level and we just want to partner with them. They’ve come to us and this is what we are comfortable helping them with.

“It’s to create some positives around Meridian Place in activation. Busier places are normally safer places," he added. 

While Thomson didn’t say specifically what the city’s $35,000 was for, he did say what it wasn’t to be spent on.

“They’re not buying security guards. We would have never given them money. Security guards serve a purpose at a certain point," he said. “Are they going to alleviate a social problem that we are having down there? No, not at all, so that’s not what it is.”

Thomson, who's also a member of the Barrie Police Services Board, said he heard at Thursday's police board meeting one way the problems will be addressed.

“They (police) said publicly you are going to see a much larger presence of police in the downtown core,” he said.

The following letter, regarding "downtown safety and well-being," was sent to Barrie Mayor Alex Nuttall and community safety committee members Tuesday:

It is getting harder and harder to 'keep our heads up' as we make our way through Downtown. However, we are staying positive and will continue to make the investments into our public realm in the hopes that our community, city, county, province and country come together to get control of this current 'pandemic' - because it has deep affects to our local main street business.

The BIA, as an event facilitator, has now experienced it first hand with over 6 overdoses and counting during BIA family events in Meridian Place over the last few weeks. Even more overdoses and deaths in downtown alleyways. We have even gotten to the point of contemplating cancelling the events for the safety and wellbeing of our staff and attendees.

This scenario can be similarity recited by many Downtown businesses. It's not a matter of making people aware of the situation, it's about coming together to find solutions. There have been many new initiatives that have been implemented but we are still behind and still need to 'catch up' more has to be done; we know there are programs being worked on that will be implemented within the next 4-6 months that will help. In the interim however, we do need to find solutions and programs to manage, here is a list of programs that are currently active and include the downtown as a focus area, and need to be continued beyond pilot programs.

● Barrie Police - 2 dedicated officers (Mike & Colin) 7am - 5pm, Monday to Friday (pilot program)

● County of Simcoe - One Community Solutions - 2 teams of 2 support workers majority of time focused in the Downtown. Narcon trained, picking sharps, establishing a connection with the challenged, connecting with businesses, communication point to first-responders. 7 days a week, 6 am - midnight (pilot program)

● City of Barrie - 2 to 3 Operations Staff - picking garbage within Downtown area (pilot program)

● MCERT program - a uniformed Barrie Police officer paired with a RVH Nurse - downtown focused but not dedicated

● COAST program - a non-uniformed Barrie Police officer paired with a CMHA Mental Health Professional - downtown focused but not dedicated

● Barrie Police - communicated instruction to monitor and route through the Downtown area when on shift

● Prisoner release drop off halted for those not living in the area at Downtown Barrie bus terminal. The BIA has implemented the following additional event safety and security measures as a result of now over 6 overdoses in or within Meridian Place during BIA public events

● Additional security personnel dedicated to Meridian Place and alleyways during public events (as additional 'eyes' to connect with first-responders)

● Public event email - to all first-responders when an event is happening with a request to inform staff on shift to be 'on alert' The Downtown Barrie BIA is positioned as a contributing partner to this community-wide challenge within the scope of the organization's mandate and is focused on achieving collaborative solutions.

Regards, Downtown Barrie BIA Board