Philip Aguirre says the Newton Business Improvement Association’s community safety patrol has seen an increase in activity compared to 2019 and 2020.
Aguirre, the executive director for the BIA, said the “biggest one” is the business calls, which are up “substantially.” The team works seven days a week, for eight hours a day,
In the first 10 months of 2021, there were already 592 calls, compared to 213 in 2020 and 285 in 2019. That’s just in the town centre, alone.
“It’s a strain on (the patrol) to be that active. A lot of the time, we can’t go to every call.”
While some calls, such as aggressive behaviour, intoxication and nuisance, have all seen decreases in the last year, Aguirre said the Newton business areas has “seen an increase in that negative social behaviour,” and “a lot of that is linked with the vulnerable population.”
However, total files have seen a 38-per-cent increase from last year and an 18-per-cent increase between 2019 and 2021. Between January and the end of October this year, the community safety patrol had 3,989 files, compared to 2,897 in all of 2020 and 3,369 in all of 2019.
“When people are sleeping in front of their doors and we have to do daily wake-up calls and move people along and provide outreach services to them, it sometimes deters consumers and that’s not what you want in a town centre,” explained Aguirre.
Newton town centre – and all town centres, he noted – is looking to have a vibrant community feel.
“You want people to feel safe and you want people to feel confident that they want to be in that space. Definitely when you have negative experiences or a negative feeling when you go shopping, you may choose a different area,” he said.
“If you see garbage on the street, if you see graffiti everywhere, if you see broken windows, if you see people loitering around, you might not feel comfortable in that area.”
Through the community safety patrol, he noted, members have been able to build relationships and get to know Newton’s vulnerable population.
“As a result, we get compliance through that relationship.”
He added that it’s a “unique service” and not many agencies have an outreach-first model.
Aguirre said the community safety patrol does “its best to provide outreach for housing … but a part of the job is enforcement and moving people along in a compassionate way.
“And that’s why our businesses call us because the vulnerable population, they’re part of the community as well, and they need to be treated as people and as compassionately as possible.”
But, Newton is lacking in resources overall.
Aguirre said the community needs more housing “for sure,” as well as more outreach services and more individuals out there providing harm reduction supplies. There are also no public washrooms in Newton, so it falls on the business community or the community centre.
“Newton has no emergency shelter space. It’s tragic. We have a population of 149,000 people, roughly in the Newton town centre we have 60 to 80 people on a monthly basis who are unhoused, they don’t have any emergency shelter space in Newton,” said Aguirre, adding people sometimes have to go to Whalley or South Surrey or even Ladner.
“The newton bIA doesn’t have endless resources, so we can’t do night patrols. It’s only an eight-hour service for our businesses, so when things happen after 4 p.m. there’s no one for them to call except 911.”