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‘Can you imagine living with this all day?’ Vancouver restaurant to close due to rising crime

Click to play video 'Vancouver business shutting down because of crime' Vancouver business shutting down because of crime
The owner of a restaurant in downtown Vancouver says he's shutting down because crime is out of control in his neighbourhood. Rumina Daya reports – Sep 8, 2020

The owner of a restaurant on West Hastings Street in Vancouver says his business is shutting down because of deteriorating conditions in his neighbourhood.

Waleed Sukarrie of Balila Taste Kitchen, a Middle Eastern-inspired eatery, said theft is out of control and that he has to clean up human waste from his front door every morning.

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“We’re standing here. Can you smell it?” Sukarrie asked a Global News crew on Tuesday. “Can you imagine living with this all day?”

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He said he also has to deal with broken windows, used needles discarded on the sidewalk, and high turnover because staff say they don’t feel safe there.

Those challenges, plus a $4,700-a-month lease, contributed to his decision to close, he said.

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“You try your best to be compassionate about it, but the direct impact on you is phenomenal,” Sukarrie said.

“I’ve reached the stage where I don’t want to come every morning and just clean the crap every day, every day, every day.”

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Graham Williams, who lives a few doors down, said residents in his building are also fed up with crime. He said they have received no help from city hall, so they have hired private security at $3,000 a month.

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“What I would say to the mayor is, ‘Oh, you actually exist?'” Williams said. “You’re Vancouver’s transparent mayor. I’ve been trying to get hold of you for six months. Everybody in this area has. Your lack of response is astounding.”

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Mayor Kennedy Stewart told Global News that he understands residents’ frustration, and that police are working to reallocate resources to “hotspot neighbourhoods.”

“What we have to do is really get at the causes of crime, which is getting folks the help they need to get to a better place,” Stewart said.

Vancouver’s biggest social issues have been brought into their sharpest focus ever under COVID-19.

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The province’s decision in June to move tent city residents in Vancouver and Victoria into temporary housing in a bid to slow the spread of the virus was followed by people setting up newer, larger camps nearby.

Police stepped up patrols around the 400-tent Strathcona Park after neighbours complained of being threatened.

Advocates for drug users, and public health officials have pointed to an unsafe drug supply that’s caused new levels of psychosis and delirium — and made B.C.’s other public health emergency, the opioid crisis, even worse.

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Any help from government would come too late for Sukarrie. After three years in the community, he will serve his last customer before the end of the month.

“That is heartbreaking,” Casey Vickers, one of his regulars, said. “I only just found that out last week. It’s been an important place in the neighbourhood for a lot of people.”

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