Businesses in downtown Surrey are most concerned about litter, loitering and stray needles, according to the Downtown Surrey BIA’s recently released 2018 safety audit.
Of 192 ground-level businesses surveyed, the top concern was litter or trash, followed by discarded needles and then loitering.
Rounding out the top five concerns of area businesses were drug-related activities and illegal dumping.
Mike Nielsen who runs Sprite Multimedia on the corner of 108th Avenue and King George Boulevard echoed the concerns about garbage highlighted in the report.
“It seems to me we were a lot cleaner in the City of Surrey going back 10 to 15 years ago, there wasn’t nearly the same challenge with people dropping stuff all over the neighbourhood,” he said, pointing to a now defunct “Recycling Week” program where residents could put out belongings once a year, to be picked up.
“Once they discontinued that, even though they do large item pick ups and other things, people don’t tend to use that services,” he added. “We’re getting mattresses, appliances, construction material is dropped off all over the city, but they target this area quite a bit. There’s a lot of people who don’t want to go to the dump. That’s been an issue ongoing for us.”
Litter is a struggle, as well.
“I’m a freak,” Nielsen laughed. “Every morning, my first five minutes is going around picking up litter.”
He also urged the city to put back garbage cans that were removed.
“People from the community would just dump general garbage. They’re designed to put a pop can in if you’re walking by, but they were dumping major garbage. But there’s really nowhere to dump now,” Nielsen noted.
On a positive front, Nielsen said stray needles has become less of an issue.
“I see less and less of that, needles, people using drugs. Certainly it still happens but we’re certainly going in a positive direction,” he noted, praising all involved in the modular housing project that saw 160 people from 135A Street moved into temporary housing in June.
But, the need hasn’t been met, he revealed.
“In our area, all the three shelter sites are full, so we’re getting a bit of fall out. There’s people behind the old Grosvenor Road site, and in the whole community, and also down at Surrey Public Market (at 64th Avenue and King George Boulevard.”
The Grosvenor Road site behind his business has people camping out “every single day now,” he said, and are moved along by authorities in the morning.
“So yes, there’s still more. We could’ve doubled this effort, created 320 rooms and I don’t think we would have completely resolved it, But we’re doing what we can and the city is trying to do a bit of a balancing act, looking at needs of business community and trying to weigh that against the needs of the homeless people every morning behind us. My heart goes out to those who don’t have a place to sleep.”
He noted 135A Street is “ground zero” where police and bylaw won’t let any tents be set up.
“They’ve made their point, and made 135A Street clean, and the people on that street can finally conduct business. I know a couple of them, and they’re pleased at what’s happened.”
In the BIA’s 49-page safety audit this year, they’ve made several recommendations.
Like Nielsen, the BIA is calling for more garbage bins in high-traffic areas, and also more public washrooms. The business group is also advocating for a “Big Item Drop-Off Day” to help decrease the area’s dumped garbage.
The BIA also plans to continue advertising the “Rig Dig” program for discarded needles, seeing as businesses ranked it the second highest concern this year.
Panhandlers was another issue raised by area businesses this year. The BIA plans to “advocate to the City of Surrey’s Transportation Department to change the medians so people are unable to panhandle at intersections” along King George at 108th, 104th, 102nd, 100th and 96th Avenues.
Other recommendations out of the 49-page safety survey included advocating for more permanent housing solutions.
When businesses were asked how the BIA could improve its services, the most common suggestion was “more security,” with 65.61 per cent of respondents saying more police and security could address safety issues.
“This statistic indicates a continual demand for the police, despite the large positive net change over the past 12 months. As one business noted, the mere presence of police can deter crimes,” noted the report.
Interestingly, 37.04 per cent of surveyed businesses wanted to see more social services, while 8.99 per cent wanted less. Many of those who wanted to see less were in close proximity to such services.
As part of the audit, which has been conducted annually since 2006, businesses are asked if they feel less or more safe compared to the year prior. This year, 61.39 per cent of those surveyed said they felt as safe as the prior year, but, as the report notes “same was not always indicative of feeling safe in the area.”
“15.19 per cent felt more safe than last year, while 23.42 felt less safe,” it noted. “The latter is a noticeable increase from 2017, where 7.27 per cent of ground-level businesses felt less safe than they did in summer 2016.”
Business were also asked where they felt unsafe in the area, and the majority said 135A Street. Although, the report notes a few respondents felt safer on 135A Street after tents were moved when temporary modular housing earlier this summer.
“Surrey Central Skytrain Station was also frequently discussed,” the report states. “Some respondents felt intimidated by unsavory people around the Surrey Central area. Other respondents mentioned Whalley, 108 and King George, and the Gateway Station area.”
When asked how social services made businesses feel in the area, the most common response was “neutral,” with 50 per cent of respondents selecting that answer (36.71 per cent said they felt less safe as a result, and 13.29 selected “more safe”).
“The new temporary housing received a mixed reception from respondents,” the report revealed, noting the survey coincided with the opening of the units in mid-June. “Some respondents thought the residents would remain in the housing units and receive adequate support. Conversely, other respondents felt that the temporary housing units were an inefficient use of taxes. Some of these respondents suggested that the residents would return to the streets to escape the rules imposed in the temporary housing units. An additional concern was the large concentration of residents near their business. According to some respondents, crime and disorderly conduct were perpetrated by clients of social services.”
Businesses were also asked if they think the overall reputation of Surrey’s downtown core had changed, compared to last year.
Most replied that it had remained the same (46.84 per cent), while 31.01 per cent said it had improved, and 22.15 said it had worsened.
Those who thought the area’s reputation got better often mentioned new developments and businesses, and the positive activity and more “reputable” people they would attract, as well as increased visibility of RCMP and BIA bike patrols.
Those who thought the reputation had gotten worse often discussed the “influx of problematic people,” such as homeless, loiterers and drug users.
“A few participants felt that people from other areas perceived Surrey negatively due to widespread disorder,” it added.
Businesses noted positive changes, such as police presence and response, as well as lighting.
Negative changes in the last year, according to the majority of businesses who were surveyed, were drug users, with some noticing more drug use or needles around their business. Loiterers and panhandlers were also a concern.
A total of 157 businesses responded to questions about crime, with 125 reporting some form of victimization in the last year.
Of 31 businesses that reported they had been victims of assault in the past year, 35.48 per cent said they’d been assaulted once, 41.94 per cent said they’d been assaulted twice, and 16.13 per cent said it happened four times or more.
Fourteen businesses reported instances of assault with a weapon in the past year, including one business that said they’d had more than four such incidents.
Weapons used in these instances varied from a Taser, machete, knife, needle, mace and pepper spray.
Forty-five businesses said they’d been broken into in the past year, 37 reported instances of theft, and 13 reported cyber crime.
Eighty-two businesses reported being threatened by customers or other people in the last year, one up to 10 times, another saying they had “lost count.” The study found many of these incidents were not reported to police with “some businesses resolving the situation by threatening to call the police.”
Fraud was fairly common among the businesses surveyed, with 65 reporting incidents of fraud, varying from counterfeit bills to fake or stolen credit cards. Fifty-two respondents said they’d dealt with auto theft, ranging from stolen car parts to siphoned gas.
Sixty-eight businesses said they’d dealt with retail theft, nine reported robberies and two reported robbery with a weapon.
Vandalism and graffiti was reported by 79 businesses, and five businesses reported at least one instance of fire.
“In these scenarios, someone was warming themselves up outside of the business,” the report noted. “One of the respondent expressed concern about their property catching on fire, similar to what had occurred at The Hockey Shop in September 2017. Additionally, several businesses reported overdoses near their property.”
Of the 125 businesses who reported any form of victimization in the past year, 32.8 per cent said they’d reported all crimes to police, 34.4 per cent reported some crime, and 28.8 said they didn’t report any.