Sudbury·HOOKED

Addictions, intoxication, needles a growing concern in downtown Sudbury

Some people will tell you that downtown Sudbury is a beautiful place, with locally owned boutiques and restaurants, quaint coffee shops, flower beds and it's clear that the city and business owners have worked hard to make downtown Sudbury look beautiful.
Some people are concerned about safety in the downtown core, many saying that panhandling, intoxication and needles are their biggest concerns. (Jamie-Lee McKenzie/CBC)

Some people will tell you that downtown Sudbury is a beautiful place, with locally owned boutiques and restaurants, quaint coffee shops, flower beds and it's clear that the city and business owners have worked hard to make downtown Sudbury look beautiful.

But the beauty of the area doesn't take away the fear that some residents have about going to the area.

There's a darker side to downtown Sudbury. In the past few years there's been an increase in overdoses, the amount of needles being found and homelessness is on the rise. Many of these issues are very visible in the downtown core.

"Every day that I come to work I clean up two to four needles from the night before, almost every day five or six days a week, and I give out 30 to 40 free meals a week to homeless people that are addicted to mostly purple fentanyl (heroin)," said Jason Ross, who owns Fresh Off the Grill hot dog cart.

Purple heroin or "purp" is fentanyl-laced heroin, which is becoming more common in the City of Greater Sudbury. 

You get bombarded by panhandlers and people asking for things and it just became very awkward for my children to be around.​​- Aaron Babin

Public Health Sudbury and Districts has issued multiple warnings about purp being found in the city, also warning that fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin, it makes overdose a much higher risk.

"I've had a few attempted robberies, people asking me how much money I have, putting their hands on my knife, so there's a lot of concerns," said Ross.

While the dangers of being robbed and cleaning up the needles daily hasn't stopped Ross from setting up his cart in the same location every day, there are a number of other residents who have fears and concerns about coming downtown.

Aaron Babin has lived in Sudbury all his life and even lived downtown for a time but once he decided to start a family, he moved to another part of the city, downtown is a place that he didn't want to raise his children.

"You get bombarded by panhandlers and people asking for things and it just became very awkward for my children to be around," says Sudbury resident, Aaron Babin. (Jamie-Lee McKenzie/CBC)

"I've seen things downtown where people were very high or very drunk. I've seen people having sex behind a dumpster. I've seen just beatings," said Babin. "Another thing was in a bathroom I found they have a needle dispenser but the dispenser was overfull. Needles were like piled up high. It's just not safe to be around."

"You get bombarded by panhandlers and people asking for things and it just became very awkward for my children to be around," he said. 

Although panhandling, intoxication and needles haven't stopped all people from coming downtown, needles especially are becoming a larger concern for the public.

"There's a lot of needles around and a lot of drug addicts," said Lorainne Lacasse. "There are some people that are really rough and so it is a little dangerous." Lacasse recently moved downtown and says she often sees needles as she's walking around.

However, with the growing concerns about safety in the downtown, there are some who say the issues is not nearly as bad as some people believe it to be.

Réseau ACCESS Network is an organization in downtown Sudbury that's committed to harm reduction and education. The organization works with a lot of the vulnerable population in the area.

Seeing needles in the downtown isn't very surprising anymore, however, many residents say it's a growing concern. (Jamie-Lee McKenzie/CBC )

"I think sometimes people fear the unknown or you know they have in their mind this stereotype of a dangerous person who's someone sitting on the street corner, who maybe isn't wearing clean clothes or who may be experiencing mental health or who may be under the influence of drugs," said Amber Fritz, an outreach coordinator with Réseau ACCESS.

Fritz works regularly with people with addictions and mental health issues, she says she's gotten to know many of them and just like regular people, they can be kind and not so kind.

"It's just so much boils down to stigma and stereotypes," she said.

Constable Tyler Hagen also spends much of his time in the downtown, he's been patrolling the area for four years. He works with the Downtown Sudbury BIA and other community partners to try and make the area safer.

Area considered to be the downtown, however, Constable Tyler Hagen also patrols areas outside the main downtown core. (Google Maps)

And he says he knows there are people who are afraid of the downtown, he also believes it's a perception that makes people think the situation is worse than it is.

"They may hear or see things that may or may not be true in the downtown core and for that they're fearful of coming downtown. They're fearful of potentially the homelessness in the downtown core and because of things on social media they see they just refuse to come downtown," said Hagen.

Hagen says that while the opioid crisis has hit many areas of the city, many of these issues are a lot more visible in the downtown, which just adds to peoples perceptions that the downtown is unsafe.

"There's a lot of mental health and addiction problems in the downtown core that being said mental health and addiction services are all in the downtown core," he said.

And there are people who know of the dangers but still choose to come downtown, just keeping in mind their own safety.

Constable Tyler Hagen with the Greater Sudbury Police Service has been patrolling the downtown for four years. (Jamie-Lee McKenzie/CBC)

"I've never not felt safe," said Lynn Morin. She's retired now, but spent much of her career working downtown. Now Morin comes downtown for fun, going to local restaurants and shops, also checking out the Sudbury Wolves and Five when she has a chance.

"There's always people around always. When somebody is sitting on one of the curbs or has their hand out, it's my choice whether or not I'm going to acknowledge them. Not once ever have I been called a name when I've refused to give money it hasn't affected me," she said.

"Sometimes the people that are begging for drug money, most of them aren't dangerous they're just poor, they're hungry. They're not going to hurt you, they need a hand up."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jamie-Lee McKenzie is from Kebaowek First Nation. She's a Reporter with CBC Sudbury. She's also worked as a Reporter and Associate Producer with CBC Manitoba and CBC North in Whitehorse. Reach her at jamie.mckenzie@cbc.ca or connect with her on Twitter @JamieMcKenzie_

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