When we saw that Duncan residents feel less safe (73 per cent) than they did five years ago according to the Citizen Survey that the city conducts we were not surprised.
The City of Duncan and the greater Duncan area have borne the brunt of the growing and overlapping homelessness and opioid crises in the Cowichan Valley.
While all of Cowichan’s communities, no matter how small, have seen some effects, there is no doubt that these problems are by far the most visible in and around the downtown core of the City of Totems.
Homelessness and drugs are not new in Duncan. We’d venture to say they’ve likely been around in one form or another for as long as the city itself has existed. But never before have these issues been so acute and aggressively in the faces of all residents and visitors.
Debris is scattered in out-of-the way corners of parks, in vacant lots and along roadsides and dikes, remnants of homeless campers. People who are homeless, some using drugs, gather in small groups in parking lots and on sidewalks in front of businesses. Rightly or wrongly, many passers-by find this intimidating. With drugs comes crime, as the drug trade is deeply interwoven with a host of other illegal activities, not to mention the often petty crimes that those who use drugs will commit to finance their habit.
When residents in some neighbourhoods feel as if they cannot leave anything outside of their homes that isn’t nailed down for fear it will be stolen, that contributes to a feeling of unease in the place they call home.
It also contributes to a feeling of diminishment in the quality of life — residents gave the city a 6.8 out of 10 rating. In 2016 that number was an eight out of 10.
Crime, safety, homelessness and drugs were also the top issues people identified in the Citizen Survey from 2021, so none of this comes as a surprise.
While it may seem like these problems are not being solved, the city and other jurisdictions surrounding it have made strides in the last few years. Supportive housing has gone up on Drinkwater Road, and more is set to open this year on White Road in Duncan. The transitional housing facility on Trunk Road has proven to be effective in taking people off the streets.
It takes housing, drug policy, health policy and policing working in tandem, and ours is still too often fragmented, not moving in the same direction, or with key pieces missing.
There’s still a lot more to be done, but our local leaders have not turned a blind eye. It’s a work in progress.