Ryan Graham has worked in Penticton’s downtown core for about a decade.
“I’ve noticed a continual year after year decline in safety,” he told Global News.
Graham, who co-owns Clancy’s Liquor Store and Pub, said problems plaguing the area have gotten a lot worse in recent years.
“Daily open alcohol and drug use in our downtown core, theft to local shops, Graham said. “I feel we are under siege right now.”
Graham, who is also the president of the Downtown Penticton Association, said complaints from downtown businesses are a regular occurrence.
“I personally get emails, phone calls daily,” he said.
Last week, a frightening incident at the Okanagan Cosmetology Institute, brought the downtown problems to the forefront.
On Wednesday afternoon, a man barricaded himself inside the facility and refused to leave.
The incident led to a weekend meeting between the beauty school and the mayor.
“The city has said they are going to arrange for more bylaw officers and specialized bylaw officers that will have a little bit more authority, which will be nice,”said Leanne O’Grady, one of the instructors at the Okanagan Cosmetology Institute. “They’ve also discussed putting in cameras on some of the buildings or the businesses putting cameras on some of the buildings, just so we can keep a more watchful eye.”
Last week, Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki came under fire after an interview about what occurred at the Okanagan Cosmetology Institute, telling Global News downtown complaints were over-exaggerated.
But on Monday, he clarified what he meant.
“I didn’t mean what happened in their premises was over-exaggerated,” he said. “What I meant and what I said was that the overall danger in the community is over-exaggerated.”
While Vassilaki has said he believes the downtown core is still a safe place, he’s well aware of the escalating complaints. But he said when it comes to issues of homelessness, addiction and mental health, the solution lies with all three levels of government.
“All that has to be taken care of and we can’t do it alone, the city can’t do it alone,” he said. “We have to have partnerships with the provincial and federal government and we are working on that.”
But Graham says the city can make a difference on its own, by taking a harder stance.
“I understand the laws and what police can and cannot do but I feel if we change our culture of our downtown, like if we make it a place where you can’t sit and drink all day or you can’t do your drugs…if we come together and really clean up the downtown and make it a healthy downtown again, all of our businesses will thrive and people will start coming back to our downtown.”