Risk losing our town if nothing changes
Every morning at 8 a.m., a volunteer cleanup crew shows up on Whistler Street in Duncan to scour the streets and alleys on the north end of town, into North Cowichan. They are armed with garbage pickers, gloves and masks. They pick up containers full of discarded clothing, drug paraphernalia, garbage and human waste.
They paint over the graffiti and wash blood off of walls; they ask sleepers to move away from business doorways. They are a small army barely holding back the chaos. The fact that citizen volunteers are still cleaning up the streets and not municipal workers is a clear indication municipal governments are not listening.
Why do they have to do this? Because if they did not, it would be intolerable. Whistler Street has lost three businesses. It is hard to keep tenants in nearby rentals because it is too dangerous to go out at night. There are allegedly 22 sex workers plying their trade in Duncan. Panhandlers are everywhere.
Why so many? People on the street say that they come here because there are few police, if they get arrested, they are out on the street the next day and that people here are very generous. One panhandler, who shall remain nameless, usually makes $400 a day. Others make about $150 a day. This money does not go for food or rent. It is spent on drugs and alcohol.
The public must realize that giving to panhandlers is making the problem worse. Donate to Canadian Mental Health or to Warmland House or to CWAV or the Food Bank or Cowichan Youth Services; organizations that are actually doing something and who could use the donation. Please do not give to individuals. If you do, you are enabling their lifestyle choices, you are not helping them.
The way to stop panhandling is for us to stop giving money to panhandlers and for both municipalities to pass no panhandling bylaws. To solve this problem will take all of us working together. We need enforcement, intervention, more detox, job training and affordable housing. All of the above. But what is being done now is not having an effect. We risk losing our town to a rising wave of addicts and dealers if nothing changes.