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Comox Valley business says rise in vandalism shows need for more mental health supports

The Comox Valley has been the home and, in many ways, the saving grace for downtown business owner Jenny Deters.

Having grown up in foster care, spending part of her life on the streets, and having a child at 16, she says without this community she would not be where she is today.

Today, Deters is a co-owner of Design Therapy on the corner of 5th Street and Duncan Avenue in downtown Courtenay. It’s been a business 11 years in the making for Deters and her business partner and it holds a lot of value in her life and heart.

Over the years, however, the business has been subject to vandalism in the downtown area. But the most recent event stung more for Deters than any of the past, involving decals that can be seen on the side of the building along Duncan Avenue.

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“I had a dream and putting those decals up last year was the epitome of my dream. Basically, it meant that I had done what I wanted to do here,” said Deters.

“So, having our decal on the side of our building vandalized hit me hard in the heart because that was all my hard work and I viewed that decal every day. When I come to work and I see those decals it shows me that I worked hard, and we achieved what we wanted to achieve with this business.”

The cost of artwork like that is around $1,000 which is a large expense for the business according to Deters. She adds she and other businesses feel incidents like these are increasing in the area.

Deters says greater mental health supports are needed and more funding for RCMP officers to combat the issue and prevent it from getting worse in the downtown core.

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“This isn’t a problem with homeless people, this is a problem with chronic offenders, people with mental health issues and people with addiction issues and those need to be dealt with,” said Deters.

Deters also feels the warming centre should be moved with zoning in place to prevent businesses from taking the brunt of issues.

“We are not social workers, we are not outreach workers, we are not nurses or doctors. We don’t know how to care for these people,” added Deters.

The issue of vandalism is close to mayor Bob Wells as he experienced it as a business owner for over 15 years and says it’s a big blow to businesses.

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“When it happens it really shakes your foundation of trust in your community,” said Wells. “The thing that’s really critical is to make sure any incidents of crime, vandalism or theft are being reported to the RCMP.”

Wells says up-to-date statistics on vandalism are very important for them as they work with local police and increase police services and officers. He adds over the last five years, the numbers are decreasing and that can be an issue if that data isn’t correct.

“That’s a real challenge that if I hear from people that things are increasing but the data tells me it’s decreasing,” added Wells.

Wells says addressing the housing crisis and being able to provide shelter for the community’s most vulnerable is critical. He emphasizes that homelessness is not a crime and says the city is working to create new solutions.

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“We’ve asked for a situation table to be created and that’s really to help facilitate, not just the RCMP, but also all the agencies, the folks working in mental health and addictions,” said Wells.

“If they can identify an individual that needs support, they can rapidly deploy a wraparound service for that individual.”

Wells says they have also started a GIS map with all the security cameras so RCMP can access the information and potentially get footage of the incident.

“Hopefully the end result is the RCMP are much faster at recovering any of those potential video records that may show somebody committing some kind of criminal activity,” said Wells.

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He encourages business owners to remain positive and support each other as they deal with vandalism. Courtenay council approved a motion Wednesday to look into creating a downtown community safety office with the RCMP and Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association.

While vandalism may be an issue for the area, community spirit still shines through the issues, according to Deters, and many others are willing to help make things right. After the vinyl artwork was vandalized, Deters says the owners of La Cache got local artist Kelly Everill to repaint the damage. 

However, Deters adds the financial cost stops other businesses from giving back to the community that for many has given them so much.

“The only reason I am where I am is because of the amazing community we have here. All of the programs that have helped me navigate where I came from to where I am today, I’m so grateful to,” said Deters.

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“The reason I run this business is to give back to those programs and to be able to offer a safe and well-paid position to my amazing team to who take care of my business.”

Deters adds she wants Design Therapy to still be there in 20 or 30 years to give back to the programs that have helped her and many others throughout their life in the community.

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