Safety concerns spark call for assessment of Lighthouse, increased police presence

After a group of people were chased with a hatchet through central Saskatoon last month, the representative for downtown businesses says it’s time to rethink safety in the city’s core.

Concerns about drug use, public intoxication and harassment are ongoing, said Brent Penner, executive director for the Downtown Saskatoon Business Improvement District (BID).

“Those things are challenging, but they require … certain actions,” Penner said in an interview on Wednesday.

“We just needed to get it out in the open and be willing to talk about it.”

He said some safety issues are connected to The Lighthouse Supported Living at 304 2nd Ave., which provides shelter and addictions services to the city’s most vulnerable people. 

The downtown BID is calling on the province to assess the facility’s programming, funding and location.

“Let’s examine what a neighbourhood can realistically handle in terms of concentration of services,” Penner said.

“More is happening at that one location. That means more people going there. That means more pressure put on that location. That means more pressure put on the immediate surrounding district.”

Lighthouse executive director Don Windels said the organization is open to constructive criticism, but an assessment would be redundant. The facility has already been evaluated by Saskatchewan’s ministries of health and social services, which help fund the non-profit, he said.

“Our funders are very pleased with the job that we’re doing,” Windels said.

The Lighthouse is already exploring the possibility of setting up a second location to separate harm reduction and treatment services, he added.

Downtown property and business owners have expressed concerns about Lighthouse clients, Windels said.

“They all have names. They all have lives. They just want to be treated with respect,” he said.

“Sometimes when you’re treated poorly … they react, and rightly so.”

In the coming months, he said the organization plans to give business owners tips on how to have positive interactions with vulnerable people downtown.

Both Windels and Penner agree on a key method for tackling safety issues: increasing the police presence downtown.

The BID is calling on the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) to develop a surveillance camera registration program and create a downtown policing strategy.

In a written statement, the SPS said it’s developing a new policing model to increase police visibility.

It said downtown Saskatoon presents policing challenges.

“The mix of businesses, residents, and a high number of agencies providing services to those in our community dealing with issues including mental health, addictions and homelessness requires a balance of considerations,” the statement reads.

It notes police have a regular presence downtown and 10 new officers were added to the central division this year.

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