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Old Strathcona Business Association calls for swifter action to address safety concerns

The Old Strathcona Business Association launched a letter campaign on Tuesday, encouraging the City of Edmonton and the provincial government’s Edmonton Public Safety and Community Response Task Force to help make the area safer.

Association executive director Cherie Klassen said support is needed in different ways because economic pressures from the pandemic and inflation have impacted business owners.

“I think for them, it feels like the death by 1000 cuts, and there’s only so much capacity they have,” she said in an interview Tuesday. 

The association is calling for the formation of an outreach street team and seven-day police patrol to address concerns around social disorder and violent crime.

“The other pieces that we’re seeing is a lack of resources for folks, including business owners, when they are having difficult interactions with a marginalized population,” Klassen said. 

“They don’t know how to navigate that, and there’s no place to sort of send those people for resources.” 

The letter-writing campaign is a follow-up to efforts that began last summer after the association noticed an influx of broken windows and vandalism in the neighbourhood.

Broken-window grant

The association advocated to the City of Edmonton for a broken-window grant, which was approved at the beginning of 2023.

Since the grant launched in the spring, the association has received a dozen applications and provided nearly $10,000 in funding to support businesses.

Data from Edmonton Police Service (EPS) show recent spikes in violent crime and crime severity in the city.

Edmonton’s violent crime rate, per 100,000 people, increased by 16.5 per cent last year, according to statistics EPS shared in April.

Carolin Maran, EPS communications adviser, said around 15 officers are part of dedicated Whyte Avenue beat teams that patrol the Old Strathcona area five or six days a week, day and night.

“The EPS is aware of the concerns expressed by the Old Strathcona Business Association (OSBA) and understands that businesses and citizens alike are feeling the impacts of rising crime, social disorder, and violence citywide.”

The police force said it will continue to “engage collaboratively with key stakeholders like OSBA to discuss progress and solutions.”

Expansion of financial support 

The association is also seeking improved financial support, including expanding the already existing window repair grant to include eligibility for other store features that face frequent vandalism.

City spokesperson Courtney Bettin said there was $500,000 set aside for the grant program, and to date, about one-quarter of the funding has been used. The program is in place for business owners in the North edge, downtown core, and Chinatown.

Klassen said some grant applications fail because instead of a broken door or window, businesses endure different damage, such as a broken dumpster lid.

Klassen said the association wants a security-optimized store grant to encourage proactive security measures like cameras and tamper-proof waste bins.

The city said it is not looking at other security-related funding programs.

Christina Yun, a hairstylist who owns Dollhouse Hair Boutique & Barber Blonde on 104th Street in the Strathcona neighbourhood, said running a business under the current conditions is trying.

“I know that a business beside us just recently got broken into [and] we’ve had people sleep on the side of the building,” she said.

“We’ve also had someone try to break in through our basement window. So it is a little bit concerning.”

She said the problem requires governments on all three levels to work together to tackle systemic issues. 

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