Osborne Village Biz funds foot patrol to restore sense of neighbourhood safety

The time has come for Osborne Village to get its own foot patrol, but it's going to come at a cost and the city won't be picking up any of the bill.

City of Winnipeg denies request for funding months after granting other nearby Biz groups financial help

The Osborne Village Biz plans to have a new foot patrol walking streets in The Village by this summer. (CBC)

It's been named one of Canada's greatest neighbourhoods in the past, but Osborne Village is not without its troubles.

The time has come for the neighbourhood to get its own foot patrol, but it's going to come at a cost and the city won't pick up any of the bill, says Osborne Village Biz executive director Stephanie Meilleur.

"It's time for Osborne Village to have one — the time was five years ago," said Meilleur.

"The amount of foot traffic we have triples in the summer [and] when you have foot traffic, you have safety concerns, especially in such a populated area."

The Village has a variety of street-side shops and restaurants that draw suburbanites in droves during the warmer months, but a spike in drug use and crime last summer also brought problems.

"The amount of drug use on the street had increased. We're very lucky that we have a great relationship with the Winnipeg police West District," said Meilleur. "They were giving up countless hours to be down in The Village to help us clean up the area and maintain things."

Meilleur and the Biz hope to roll out a new foot patrol soon with staff that will walk the streets as a way of making patrons and local residents feel safer in the neighbourhood.

Making cuts to make it happen

Meilleur estimates it will cost $35,000 to run a foot patrol in the first year.

To come up with that money, the Biz cut down about 50 per cent of its overhead expenses, laid off staff about a year ago (Meilleur is the lone Biz staff member now), trimmed down its Canada Day decoration budget, and moved out of its former office for a smaller space to make the foot patrol a reality. 

Winnipeggers pack Osborne Village during the annual Canada Day celebration in 2013. (CBC)

They were forced to make those changes because the city denied a Biz application for funding, Meilleur said.

"There are some partnerships that are developed over time, there's areas where they can get additional funding from the city and the province, but this is a new initiative and so far it has not been funded," city Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said, adding she has co-ordinated a meeting between the Biz and Mayor Brian Bowman.

"So, it's not like the door is closed or anything, I am sure."

The Biz was notified just months after the city committed funds to the Downtown and West End Biz groups through the city's Civic Initiative Fund for their respective foot patrols. That irks Meilleur.

"We're getting no help from any level of government, so we decided to cut our own budget in many ways in order to save some money so we could fund our own," she said.

"Osborne Village suffers from the same amount and same kind of safety concerns that the other Biz zones do, with the situation last summer when the city saw an influx of squatting, panhandling and aggressive crime."

A city spokesperson said in an email that bylaws allow Biz groups to collect levies from their membership that they can use toward anything, including foot patrols.

Meilleur said the Biz receives financial support for its Canada Day street festivities and street-scaping initiatives, but none directly earmarked for safety.

"What a lot of people don't realize is what biz zones actually do for the city of Winnipeg — and that's everything from maintaining the level of cleanliness, making sure businesses are well promoted and marketed and just making sure that it's an overall welcoming message and branding for that area."

Different needs, different crew

Though the foot patrol is still in the conceptual phase, once it gets off the ground it will look a little different than other Biz patrols, Meilleur said.

The patrol will include "ambassadors" who will be free to walk people in the area to work, their cars or homes. Unlike some foot patrols that are staffed by volunteers, the Osborne Biz group will be hired personnel from a local security firm, Meilleur said.

"This isn't your standard rent-a-cop style security, these individuals will be dressed in Village foot patrol apparel," she said, adding each staff member will have identification on their uniform so people can quickly identify them.

Osborne has different characteristics than other regions with patrol groups, and that has factored into the Biz thought process, too, Meilleur said.

"This one is seen as different because it is the trendy, hipster area of Winnipeg, and it is a destination point," she said.

"And with having such a highly condensed neighbourhood, we look different than the other Biz zones. A lot of our businesses have been there 25, 30, 35 years and they live and breathe the community, which no other Biz zone, I think, really has. 

"So by having a foot patrol that's invested in the community, it is going to be a more grassroots effort."

The goal is to start the patrol before the buzzing summer crowds show up to imbibe and fill the sidewalks.

With files from Sam Samson