A New West mom believes that daily cleanups of drug paraphernalia and the creation of a “feces hotline” are two of the ways city hall can address safety issues in New West neighbourhoods.
Appearing before city council on Monday night, Carmen Dunn said she no longer feels safe raising her family in the city where she was born and raised. She bought her first home in New West in the summer of 2021.
“Within a month of getting our house, we had our first break and enter onto our property. I don't know if you've ever had your home broken into before but it's a trauma you never get over,” she said. “Every creak I hear in the middle of the night sends me into a panic attack that someone's coming back to do it again.”
Dunn said her car has been broken into twice, with the first time being the most concerning as the suspect left drug paraphernalia behind.
“When the cop came to do the investigation, based on what he saw, he was concerned that it may have been contaminated with fentanyl. And then he proceeded to tell me that it's transdermal, and if there was contamination and I touched it I could have died,” she said. “Well, it was found on my kid’s car seat.”
(The Government of Canada says it's "extremely unlikely" that people would be harmed if their skin is exposed to fentanyl or other synthetic opioids.)
Dunn said she’s received text messages from various neighbours telling her that there are individuals on her property staring into her windows.
“I find human feces in my backyard, and in the summer I found a man's jeans and underwear with feces all inside of it,” she said. “I watch drug deals happen on a regular basis in my alley. There are individuals who are smoking hard drugs right in front of my kid's face when we're getting into the car.”
Dunn said her neighbours have also dealt with the “enormous stress” of having a homeless camp next to their homes. She said it started out innocently enough, but it progressed to something much more problematic.
“It's not just the garbage and the beer bottles and the vodka bottles and the drug paraphernalia all along the alley and on the sidewalk. There are men passed out, often with their pants around their ankles. I've watched men overdose on this corner,” she said. “During the night, I hear fights happen in our alley; I hear the screams of women.”
Given the previous council’s “inaction” in addressing safety, Dunn said it feels like the city is only serving the vulnerable people of the community.
“This city needs to implement infrastructure to serve all people of this community so we can safely coexist together,” she said. “I am begging you: please make crime and safety your number 1 priority. It is the foundation for a thriving city.”
Dunn offered some suggestions for ways the city could help address residents’ safety concern, including: hiring an organization that could go around the city daily and clean up drug paraphernalia; creating a “feces hotline” that residents and businesses could call when they find human feces and need it removed; and working with the other municipalities to ensure they're doing their fair share to create the infrastructure needed to support the vulnerable people.
“I'm hearing we're taking in individuals from Burnaby and Surrey, and although I'm happy, they're getting help, I don't think it's fair to us taxpayers that we are bearing the brunt of the financial responsibilities of the other cities,” she said.
Coun. Tasha Henderson said she has little ones and agreed that finding drug paraphernalia is unsettling to say the least. She suggested staff follow up with Dunn about some of the concerns she’s raised.
Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said the community will start to see some responses to these issues in the next few months. While the issues are part of American-wide social issues, he said New West has made progress in the past when it’s dealt with social issues and impacts on the community.
“It's important that we really renew those efforts. … I believe in a compassionate city and I believe in compassionate responses to the issues of homelessness and addiction. I also believe that compassion needs to be extended to everybody,” he said. “And I don't see those issues as an either/or; I don't see them as two sides. I see them as us working together, council and community and business, trying to figure out some solutions that are both humane and practical.”
Mayor Patrick Johnstone said the newly elected council had a long conversation about the issues raised by Dunn at an onboarding session on Monday morning and actions that are being considered, including cleanups.
“You are going to see action on this really soon,” he said. “Many more details will be coming out about that at future council meetings. But we hear you.”
Coun. Daniel Fontaine said he and Coun. Paul Minhas are proposing the creation of a crime and safety committee.
“That's not the full solution, but it could be one of the things that we put forward,” he said. “I definitely will approach my colleagues around your suggestions, and I think we should look at those very seriously in addition to working with our police board and the police to make sure that we address many other concerns.”