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Downtown Nanaimo merchants lobby to improve Community Services Offices

WATCH: Business and property owners in Nanaimo are asking the city council to keep it’s community services building open. They say unacceptable levels of crime are scaring customers away. This comes with news that the number of mental health calls to police has increased nearly 80 per cent from 2015 to 2017. Kendall Hanson reports.

It is now an unfortunate part of his daily routine.

The manager of the downtown A&W asking people to move along, and even so, problems around the restaurant only seem to increase.

"There's a lot of drug use going on down here," said manager David Frost. "There's a lot of violence going on down here. I personally have been assaulted twice. My staff have been assaulted."

It's become such an issue that the restaurant cut its opening hours to cope and other businesses are also feeling the impact of a growing number of homeless and those struggling with mental health issues in the area.

"The last year is probably the slowest year I've had in 10 years," said Dave Lawrence of That 50's Barber Shop.

"It's terrible. I'm running into customers in the north part of town saying sorry I love to get haircuts from you but I don't want to come downtown. I don't feel safe coming downtown to your shop anymore."

According to an annual RCMP report, mental health calls to Nanaimo's downtown have increased 79% since 2015 to 469 calls last year.

The police are increasingly being called on to handle any problems, but the Victoria Cresent Association says it would like to see mental health workers from Island Health, and/or volunteers from the John Howard Society and police auxiliaries working in the area.

Ideally, they say workers would be based in the city-run community services office.

"We need help," said Kevan Shaw, Victoria Cresent Association President. "We need this community services office open and we need more resources put into it to help us."

But as the city looks to cut costs, the office, home to four bylaw officers and a security officer, could be on the chopping block.

It's a move that would save $35,000 a year and some argue could be beneficial.

"And it might not be the best to have the bylaw officers there because they're not actually working in that building," said Karen Fry, Nanaimo Bylaw Services Manager. "They're out in the streets so how could we better rebrand that facility if we do or council decides it wants to keep it open?"

Still, some local merchants have had to hire extra help to keep the streets clean. They say they want to see those living on the streets and coping with addiction get the help they need and that will likely require more money and services, not less.

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