Core merchants try new approach to old problems

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Who ya gonna call?

For downtown business owners dealing with issues like petty crime, drug use and loitering, the answer isn’t always clear.

While dialing 911 is the best-known way to contact police, it’s not necessarily the best, or timeliest, option out there.

Now, Downtown London is taking a page from a Toronto business association’s playbook in a bid to target crime and cut lengthy waits for police.

The umbrella group representing core merchants has teamed with London police and a street-level outreach agency to teach downtown businesses what to do in a variety of situations.

More than 300 pamphlets outlining who to call in different scenarios have been distributed to downtown businesses in recent weeks.

The brightly coloured cards instruct users to dial 911 for medical emergencies or when there’s a crime in progress.

But in cases that aren’t time-sensitive, calling the foot-patrol unit or the non-emergency police line is a better fit, the card says.

Pushy panhandlers and discarded syringes? That’s a job for LondonCares, the local outreach agency that works to reduce homelessness.

And for situations where the caller wants to remain anonymous, there’s Crime Stoppers.

“It’s about social justice and economic resilience,” said Downtown London general manager Janette MacDonald. “We want to make sure that our most vulnerable are being cared for, and that the people with property know who to call and are able to conduct their business unfettered.”

Merchants have embraced the cards, MacDonald added.

“They’re happy to have some knowledge, because knowledge is power,” she said.

David E. White, who has operated a high-end men’s clothing store downtown for more than three decades, said he welcomes any initiative to improve the core,

But White cautioned that many of the problem’s plaguing downtown, such as poverty and addiction, require a city-wide solution.

“Everybody has to take responsibility for this,” he said.

“It is complex, but it needs a lot of people sitting down and talking hard about what we can do. I wish I had the answer.”

As part of the new initiative, which was extended to the Argyle area and Old East Village, Downtown London’s squad of Super Guides have distributed stickers discouraging loitering, trespassing and soliciting.

The red-and-yellow decals — now appearing in the windows of hundreds of businesses — give police the authority to ask people to leave private property, or risk getting slapped with a trespassing ticket, outside of operating hours.

“It informs the community at large that we are aware of the issues and we are constructively taking steps to deal with them,” said Jonathan Bancroft-Snell, who has operated an art gallery on Dundas Street for 17 years.

Many of the problems being addressed in downtown London aren’t unique to the city, said Bancroft-Snell, adding the core’s eclectic makeup is part of what makes it special.

“They are all part of our community,” he said of downtown’s marginalized population.

“There has to be some compassion.”

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