Sudbury·HOOKED

Downtown businesses in Sudbury make changes to improve safety

Many business owners have worked hard to keep the area looking nice and welcoming for visitors and customers. However, downtown Sudbury is marred by symptoms of an opioid crisis, dirty needles, panhandling and public intoxication have all been in the rise in the city's core.

Organizations are working toward finding solutions for some of the issues in the downtown

Downtown Sudbury business owners have worked to make their business safe from symptoms of a growing opioid crisis. (Jamie-Lee McKenzie/CBC)

Local shops, pubs and restaurants, unique boutiques and other small businesses line the streets of downtown Sudbury.

Many business owners have worked hard to keep the area looking nice and welcoming for visitors and customers. However, downtown Sudbury is marred by symptoms of an opioid crisis, dirty needles, panhandling and public intoxication have all been in the rise in the city's core.

Some businesses have had to make changes to help improve safety for their property and for their customers.

Deb Brouse, the owner of Platinum Studio on Elm Street had to make changes to a small courtyard that's behind her studio. She says it was a place that people could hide and she and her staff would often find used needles.

"So we've installed a camera system and then we took down some walls, so like doing things as business owners so that you're not having people able to loiter and hide in areas and putting lighting up so that it's more visible," said Brouse.

I don't believe that referring to the crisis as an opioid crisis is a fair depiction of what's actually going on.- Amber Fritz, Réseau ACCESS Network

Jay Bertin, the owner of Peppi Panini says he's also had to make changes, like adding more security.

"We have security, we have myself, I'm always stern on making sure that, you know, people don't come around and cause issues," he said. "We've had people try to come in and use our bathrooms and we just kind of cut it off right away and they kind of get the hint and they don't come back."

"So I think business owners need to start taking responsibility for their own store front and I think that'll make a big difference," said Bertin.

And while the opioid crisis has caused some issues for business owners, Amber Fritz an outreach coordinator from Réseau ACCESS Network believes the issues go much further than drug addiction.

"I don't believe that referring to the crisis as an opioid crisis is a fair depiction of what's actually going on. I think it puts all the focus on a substance on a drug and it ignores things like poverty and it ignores things like intergenerational trauma and it ignores things like stigma and it ignores things like mental health challenges," said Fritz.

Réseau ACCESS Network is a non-profit organization that's focused on harm reduction and education. The organization serves Greater Sudbury, but Fritz says she often works with the people downtown who are dealing with these types of challenges. 

"I just think that so much emphasis is put on drugs and drugs are bad and drugs can be dangerous of course they can be. But focusing on that and that alone is almost like an easy way out. It's almost scapegoating a substance as opposed to dealing with the reality of socio-economic issues in our city," she said. 

She believes poverty and mental health issues are also part of the problems in the downtown, and those problems need to be addressed as well.

Some business owners have had to make changes like adding more lighting and adding more security to improve safety for their customers, as well as to stop finding needles around their properties. (Jamie-Lee McKenzie/CBC )

"It's hard for people that are just trying to survive day in and day out and not only are they just trying to get through life then they're having to deal with you know being the brunt of everything that is wrong with downtown Sudbury it's like all of the onus is put on these individuals who are struggling but everything that's wrong with the downtown the blame is automatically placed at their feet and I think that's really unfair," said Fritz.

"I think that looking at the larger picture when it comes to a problematic substance use when it comes to mental health challenges when it comes to homelessness when it comes to a lack of safe and welcoming spaces to look at those things as to why some of these challenges may be here would be a little bit more responsible than just pointing fingers at people who use drugs," she said.

However, businesses, downtown organizations and the city are exploring options to improve safety and find solutions to some of the serious social issues that Fritz describes.

Brian McCullagh, the co-chair of the Downtown Sudbury Business Improvement Area says one idea they're looking into is adding more lighting.

Brian McCullagh is co-chair of the Downtown Sudbury BIA, he says they are working with the police and other social agencies to find solutions to some of the issues downtown. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

"I think if we can light up the downtown when the days start getting shorter and it gets dark earlier, from a BIA perspective I think our goal is how can we work with our businesses, the police, the social agencies and other people that area concerned to help alleviate some of that uncomfortable situation," he said.

The BIA also works closely with the Greater Sudbury Police Services and other social agencies, hosting twice a year safety forums for the business community to get together and discuss their concerns and work together to figure out solutions. The BIA also hosts coffee with a cop once a month, where members can meet with Constable Tyler Hagen to discuss their concerns.

However, McCullagh also believes that issues in the downtown are not as bad as people think.

"I think part of the issue is getting true facts out there and not just rumours and things like that and I think part of the thing is unsafe first uncomfortable," he said.

"Yeah I think it is uncomfortable for people to walk by somebody asking for money or uncomfortable to walk beside somebody who's sleeping or who is maybe taking drugs at the time. Is that really unsafe? I guess it eventually could be but is it a comfort level versus safety level."

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