To the Editor:
We don’t live In 1950!
As a downtown resident and business owner, I have to say I am beyond frustrated with the attitude of our city and let me be frank, it’s residents.
Gone are the idealistic views of life in 1950. They are replaced by a harsh reality that every city is having to face and deal with. It seems North Bay is just, as usual, a day late and a dollar short.
We are all aware of the lack of programming and resources available within the city and yet it seems the people being held accountable or punished are not the ones responsible for the issues but rather the ones trying desperately to help while also trying to save their businesses, their livelihoods and often their homes from an unfair perception.
In the words of our old friend Bob Dylan “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and to be frank attitudes must change as well.
If there is to be a positive change in this city, or any city, it must start with the people who live in it. I hear countless accounts of folks not wanting to come downtown because of how bad it has become but, I hate to tell you… it is not just downtown. It is all over the city as is evidenced in the crime watch posts showing countless videos of residential neighborhoods being hit by crime.
What is the difference you may ask, what makes it so visible downtown? Truth be told, the lack of hiding places. I hate to break it to you, but the issues exist in nice residential neighborhoods as well. There are just more places to hide.
Living and working downtown is an adventure. We see a lot.
In December of 2021 my family suffered a tremendous loss with the murder of my nephew downtown. My business partner and I had already begun plans for a youth centre prior to his murder and in the aftermath put his name on it but, we are not building the centre as a legacy to his death or any issues he had in life. We are building it for the youth. We are doing it for other youth with hearts as big as his, so they do not follow the same paths he did.
Our biggest obstacle is community support because people are so afraid to come downtown. I am the co-owner of Gateway To the Arts and Nick’s Place For Us along with Dani Lynn Redgrift-Berthelot. I not only work in the downtown core of North Bay I also live here. It is an area that has been hit hard by the recent issues of homelessness and drug addiction.
On any given day I make at least one call for a wellness check on someone and I often call in crimes in progress but, I’m not the only one. Many business owners live and work in the area and have a vested interest in bringing people back to the core. And many of us are on the look out for the issues and work to mitigate or stop them before they develop.
We created an art festival; an eclectic gallery and event space and we are working on renovating the old Gulliver’s into a youth centre open to all youth 13-30. We run day camps and youth events through both sides of the business and aside from having safety protocols in place we have never had an issue with our youth participants being in danger. We have even hosted lock in events over night for youth and are looking to start hosting live local music in a coffee house setting in the future.
To be honest the resident’s downtown are a tight-knit community who look out for each other and work together.
What people seem to be missing is the fact North Bay is not unique with its issues. We all travel to Toronto from time to time. Do we stop going because of the panhandlers and homeless we encounter in the subway or on the street? No. We go, we educate our children, we visit attractions, and we deal with the socioeconomic climate of the city.
So, what is the difference in North Bay? Again, it is visible and that along with the lack of services, and the 1950s blinders we can all wear only serve to exacerbate the issues.
The idealist ‘Leave It to Beaver’ years are gone, and reality is the issues are widespread and systemic.
At Place For Us, we decided to aim our efforts at 13-30 year old youth in order to catch the issues before they become issues and see youth through to fulfilled adult lives. There are plans for computer classes in business and coding, a homework club for grades 7-9 and 10-12 as well as one possibly for mature students, music and arts, a speakers series focusing on speakers who have non-traditional stories to tell about their lives, a ramped up computer scholarship program which has already donated 20 laptops and offered training to many youth by industry experts, arts programming and informal partnerships to allow youth to gain experience through volunteering, internships and mentoring.
We own an art gallery and studio right next door. It isn’t doing amazingly well because of the issues in the core but we are surviving. The issues we face are two-fold. We must deal with the business side and the centre side as two entities. One is for profit the other is not-for-profit and those are two very different things with their own challenges but, where there is determination, hard work and effort we can make it happen. We are invested in the downtown but as business owners and residents we cannot make the change without support from the city and the citizens.
So, how do we make these changes?
First, don’t stop coming downtown. We notice the issues are far less on days where it is busy.
Second, listen to visitors who visit our downtown from bigger centres. They love it even with the issues because to them they are not issues. They deal with bigger ones on a daily basis..
Third, support initiatives that bring people back to the core like festivals and events. Trust that the businesses running these events have taken their knowledge of the area and the issues into account and have planned accordingly.
And lastly, support local. Visit the markets, the restaurants, shops and more, tell people about the great eclectic nature downtown. If you can support programs financially or by volunteering, but, don’t turn your back on a thriving neighborhood and business owners who support your community at every turn. We need you; the city needs you and the youth need you.
If we truly want a strong city to pass on to our youth the only way we can make it happen is ‘TOGETHER’.
Co-Owner, Gateway To the Arts
Executive Director, Nick’s Place For Us