Doug MacKenzie wants to do his part to help the beleaguered businesses along Whistler Street and the surrounding neighbourhood.
MacKenzie, who owns the Options Okanagan Treatment Centre for those struggling with addictions, and other volunteers are painting buildings on Whistler Street for free as part of ongoing efforts to revitalize the troubled part of the community.
He said the group plans to paint up to five businesses on Whistler Street, and will answer the call if any other property owner asks as well.
“We’re asking the business owners to buy the paint at Cloverdale Paint, which they will get for a wholesale price, and we’ll do the painting for free,” MacKenzie said.
“Once we’re through on Whistler Street, we’ll move on to the next street, then the next block and so on. These business people have a lot on the line and they and their families face a lot every day and they are not feeling valued as they face fights, overdoses and more all the time.”
MacKenzie grew up near Whistler Street and, while he now lives and works on the Lower Mainland, he frequently visits his hometown to see friends and family.
He had his own struggles with addiction when he was growing up in Duncan, but he chose to straighten his life up and has been clean and sober for 30 years, during which time he established his treatment centre to assist others facing the same issues.
In his frequent visits to Duncan, the growing addiction issue in the city was becoming more apparent to him and, four years ago, he began a campaign to spread education and awareness about drug use in the area.
As part of his efforts, he took applications from drug users in the region who were looking for help dealing with their addictions, and he picked four that were given professional assistance in treatment centres for free, and are all now living productive and drug-free lives.
MacKenzie has spent the last month in Duncan volunteering with clean-up crews, organized by Experience Cycling owner Will Arnold and other business owners in the Whistle Street area, that clean up discarded needles, human feces, graffiti and other kinds of garbage on a regular basis.
“I felt something had to be done to help the business owners deal with the issues around homelessness and addictions,” he said.
“So we organized the painting project and have created a logo ‘Love Your Community, One Street at a Time’. We know we can’t fix all the problems, but it will help. We even have some kids from Alexander Elementary School coming down to do some hand painting to help decorate our work. Anyone who wants to help should come on down.”
MacKenzie said he’s aware that the City of Duncan plans a major revitalization of Whistler Street, and the draft plans were just recently presented to city council.
“But that project is likely two years down the road, at best, and we felt something had to be done now,” he said.
Graeme Blackstock, who owns Duncan Butcher Shop and participates in the neighbourhood’s clean-up crews, said he is currently dealing with two pandemics; COVID-19 and the addictions crisis.
“This community is in dire need of a clean up like this,” he said.
“We sometimes fill up a full garbage bag of discarded needles a day. The addictions crisis around here makes COVID-19 look tame.”