Hosting a “Mayor’s Café” in the Cairnsmore neighbourhood on Feb. 28 was a good first step in dealing with the residents’ issues and concerns, according to Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples.
Staples was joined by Duncan councillors Garry Bruce and Carol Newington, who live in the neighbourhood, as well as Inspector Chris Bear from the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP, as they met with approximately 70 community members.
The meeting was called after the city noted a substantial increase in inquiries and complaints from residents and business owners in the Cairnsmore neighbourhood.
Staples said many people expressed their concerns around homelessness and the opioid crisis, and related issues, at the meeting.
“They told us some of the things they’d like us to do to help, and they related some of the things they have been doing,” Staples said.
“The residents said they would like to see a number of options explored, like better lighting on pathways and more clearing of brush and trees to open things up to view. The area also has a strong neighbourhood watch association that also organizes clean-ups, and some councillors and myself recently joined them on a clean-up day so we could see what was happening first hand.”
Staples said she came up with the idea of the Mayor’s Café to promote better and closer connections with the communities in the city.
The cafés are similar to North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring’s regular public meetings in coffee shops around the municipality in which he, and sometimes North Cowichan councillors, make themselves available for informal chats in which people can talk about any issues that concern them.
Staff at the City of Duncan are now recommending that at least two more Mayor’s Cafés be held in 2020 in various neighbourhoods around Duncan, with each having up to two councillors present as well.
At the meetings, there will be an opportunity to share information about upcoming city projects, current service levels, and an opportunity by council members to dispel any misinformation out there in the community.
“If there are issues identified that require follow up, the complainant’s name, phone number and nature of the request will be provided to the CAO or appropriate department director for follow up,” a staff report indicated.
“By hosting two more Mayor’s Café events throughout the year, it would provide each council member the opportunity to participate at one of these events.”
But, with so many issues facing the community, particularly around homelessness and the ongoing opioid crisis, Staples said she would like to have more.
“We need to determine what all of us can do,” she said.
“The Cowichan Leadership Group [which includes Staples and other leaders in the Cowichan Valley] has begun putting some pressure on the province to help us with these issues, but we need participation from everyone as we move forward.”