I started writing this article about three times, and each time I found myself either not being able to capture all the information I wanted to share, or going down a rabbit hole of despair.
The issue is about Problem Properties (PP) in our and other inner city communities. These places (and we can all bring an image of them to mind) represent a clear and present danger to the health, safety, enjoyment, and general well-being of all our community. I’ve heard stories of threats of violence against people and their families, while others have been subjected to directed vandalism and intimidation for reporting incidents through the City’s 311 line. One resident has had 11 tires slashed in the last month alone. We’ve witnessed everything from simple squatting and vandalism, to alleged cases of human trafficking, illicit drug sales and use, depots for stolen property, and the practice of unlicensed rooming houses operating in plain view of the City and Bylaw Enforcement. In late November, we watched as two houses burned midday under suspicious circumstances – fire investigators will have to resolve the cause. I personally watched a drug house or “trap house” (to use the term EPS is familiar with) operate across from us unimpeded for months.
The last incident I witnessed could have been a scene from a TV crime drama unfold, with speeding cars and drawn firearms. I’ve watched a grown woman walk from the house sobbing like a child, her belongings stripped from her and nothing but the shirt on her back. My heart broke and I can still hear that sound as I write this. And as I researched this issue I was finding articles dating back five or six years where the City claimed it was going to do something about this.
Today, I was reading the City’s Charter and their Mission Statement. There’s an item about safety and I wonder how many actually feel safe living next door to one of these places. I’m not talking about just abandoned houses and vacant lots – I’m talking about active criminal enterprises that prey on the vulnerable, thumb their noses at authority, and have been allowed to terrorize our community like some Frankenstein monster. EPS members feel like their hands are tied and have to stand before us giving the same answers time and again. Council has claimed (yet again) to actually do something and move the needle.
Six residents, including myself, pleaded our case yet again before City Council’s Urban Planning Committee on Oct 29th. The plan is to come back (again) in March to present a plan. But can we wait? Why is it not more urgent? This issue does not end at 4 o’clock and take weekends and holidays off. How many more victims do we need to log before something is done? Mayor Iveson, if this was going on next door to your family how long would you wait?
I ask you to write a letter to the Mayor and your Ward 6 Councillor Scott McKeen (who, in my experience, has been nothing less than supportive and empathetic), send an email, call 311, raise your voice – stand by your neighbours and show them your support. Tell the media, tell anyone who would listen. If you love this community like I do, then fight for it – stand beside your neighbours and say, “Enough!” While its roots are unclear, the practice of flying a flag upside down has widely been accepted as a distress call – meaning drop everything and come help. City of Edmonton, if you’re listening, our flag is upside down.
Greg is the President of the McCauley Community League. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.