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Saskatoon business leaders to address police board about crime and safety concerns

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Two Saskatoon business leaders are appearing before the city’s police board on Thursday to address their growing concerns about crime and community safety.

Randy Pshebylo, the director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District, has asked to speak to the board about “the deplorable conditions in the 1500 block of 20th Street West.”

In his request to speak, Pshebylo writes about the “degradation of the 20th Street West commercial corridor,” which he says has created “unsafe conditions for employees, customers and patients needing to access businesses here.”

As one of the most visible regular sites of local homeless encampments, that small stretch of Pleasant Hill has generated significant discussion in recent years as a focal point for the growing humanitarian crisis in the city.

In December, the St. Mary’s Affinity Credit Union announced its impending closure due to increasing safety concerns and a “change in the makeup of the neighbourhood.”

“The needs of the community have clearly changed,” Affinity CEO Mark Lane told CTV News at the time.

Affinity’s St. Mary’s branch had operated there for 75 years.

A dental clinic on the block called on city council for help last month, describing a “degradation of the area” in the last seven to eight years.

Pleasant Hill Dental Centre owner Dr. Ephthymia Kutsogiannis called the surrounding area “an encampment,” which is located nearly next door to a Saskatoon Tribal Council health centre, Prairie Harm Reduction, the Westside Community Clinic and other organizations that serve vulnerable people.

Kutsogiannis told councillors she’s found human feces in front of her business, and has had to delay appointments in the past because people sleeping in her doorway refused to leave until police arrived.

(Keenan Sorokan / CTV News)

A record number of people are now sleeping on the streets in Saskatoon, a situation exacerbated by widely criticized changes to provincial social assistance policies and an utter lack of supports or space for homeless people who use drugs or suffer from mental illness — those with so-called “complex needs.”

With nowhere for Saskatoon’s homeless residents to use the washroom or perform basic personal care overnight, last month councillors unanimously voted to install two temporary supervised washrooms in Pleasant Hill and Riversdale throughout the summer and fall.

Saskatoon police have increased patrols in the area in the last year.

Pshebylo isn’t the only business leader turning to the city’s board of civilian police commissioners this week. NSBA director Keith Moen will be there to discuss a letter he sent the board about the “alarming increase in crime” in recent months and its effect on businesses.

This, in spite of the first-quarter crime data from the Saskatoon police that showed a modest decrease in theft and non-residential break-ins city wide.

Moen says 80 per cent of NSBA members who responded to a recent survey reported being “directly or indirectly (employees and customers) impacted by the increase in crime.” He says this has led to increased business expenses and some have changed hours of operation.

Vandalism and break-ins were the top two concerns expressed by members, particularly businesses in the north end and downtown, the NSBA said.

According to the police data, wilful property damage and non-residential break-ins were down 14 per cent and 51 per cent in the first quarter of the year, respectively.

In his letter to police commissioners, NSBA executive director Keith Moen makes five recommendations to combat the threat experienced by members.

He calls for an increase in police presence and patrols, especially after work hours downtown and in the north end and “stronger enforcement of the law for all illegal activities and going back to basics.”

Moen argues the crime stats don’t show the real picture, as many business owners aren’t reporting incidents to police.

While local businesses look to police to restore order, organizations that serve vulnerable people in the city’s core have pointed to the fraying social safety net and lack of meaningful support from the provincial government, which is responsible for health and social services — or lack, thereof.

Toby Esterby, chief operations officer at the Westside Community Clinic — situated across the street from the St. Mary’s credit union — told CTV News in May that the people camping out around his clinic also deserve to feel safe.

“When you get to know people, you realize that this is a community of people that are gathering just as any of the rest of us would in our neighbourhoods; they are gathering in their community,” said Esterby.

-With files from Keenan Sorokan

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