Crime and security issues reach beyond Penticton's downtown core | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Crime and security issues reach beyond Penticton's downtown core

Penticton Art Gallery director and curator Paul Crawford poses in front of the Japanese Gardens on July 13, 2018.
July 17, 2018 - 5:00 PM

PENTICTON - The City of Penticton’s recent announcement that “the party is over” has been backed up by a working group formed by the Downtown Penticton Association, the City of Penticton and the Chamber of Commerce to identify and find solutions to problem areas in the downtown area.

The move came about as a result of rising crime and bad social habits that the city's chief administrative officer Peter Weeber says overwhelmed the city last year.

“It’s been made clear to us downtown business owners don’t want the downtown occupied by folks panhandling and they don’t want Nanaimo Square occupied or people in the alleys shooting needles,” Weeber says.

"They don’t want people stealing everything that’s not bolted down, and they want people to be able to use a public bathroom without it being completely destroyed,” he says, noting the city has sustained thousands of dollars in damages to its washrooms so far this year.

The problems aren’t limited to the downtown core. The city would like to do something to make areas like the Esplanade and the Art Gallery property more secure as they have become major problems.

An abandoned shopping cart sits on a pathway surrounded by drug parapheranlia and human waste in Esplanade Park.
An abandoned shopping cart sits on a pathway surrounded by drug parapheranlia and human waste in Esplanade Park.

The Esplanade is a narrow strip of undeveloped, steep hillside rising from the base of the yacht and tennis club along Marina Way to the backyards of residences on Vancouver Avenue. It’s considered a park and protected area, but a short walk through it reveals it's anything but protected.

“Residents on Vancouver hill are concerned. The Esplanade has been completely overrun, and we haven’t even scratched the surface as to what needs to be done in that area,” Weeber says.

The city’s hands are tied to some degree by environmental concerns when it comes to dealing with ways to make the Esplanade more secure, which Weeber finds somewhat ironic when one considers the degradation being caused by current human activities in the area.

“It’s not a pleasant place to walk through,” he says.

At the Penticton Art Gallery, director and curator Paul Crawford says issues on the art gallery property are “some things I’ve seen and others I’ve heard.”

He says it seems a thoroughfare has been created between the art gallery grounds and the marina as transients and drug users access the Esplanade.

A needle lies discarded on a pathway in Esplanade Park.
A needle lies discarded on a pathway in Esplanade Park.

Crawford says he’s noticed a huge increase in drug use around the gallery, which is surrounded by bushes, trees and behind it, the Japanese Gardens.

"The Japanese Gardens have had to cut back a lot of the underbrush toward the lake, because people were stashing and doing stuff in the bushes,” he says, adding the art gallery has had to deal with an increase in graffiti and discarded drug paraphernalia in the past year.

“I’m here late at night and I see a lot of activity, including cars that park for brief periods, where I don’t know what they’re doing. Last year we had a donation bin for Big Brothers that attracted problems because people spent the whole night digging through it,” Crawford says.

"They unscrew the lights at the back door and I go out and screw them back in and tell them, ‘I need this,” he says.

Crawford says he tries to engage those hanging around the gallery.

“For the most part, they are pretty respectful. I tell them I can’t stop them from doing what they’re doing, but urge them to clean up after themselves,” he says, adding there has been a marked increase in the number of people hanging around, especially in the last three years.

He says he hasn't had to deal with any violent behaviour, yet.

“I once saw a guy outside looking crazed, with a pipe and a hammer in his hand. I don’t know where he was going, but I wasn’t going out to talk to him,” Crawford says with a laugh. "Better lighting would help, but it interferes with the ambience. A lot of people don’t come down here at night because they are unsure of the security.”

“I’ve had some heart wrenching talks with some. It makes you humble,” he says.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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