Tag Archives: Riversdale Business Improvement District

Column: Relocating problem no answer

The StarPhoenix This week’s column in The StarPhoenix

While driving to work last Tuesday, I got ensnared in the road construction and traffic backups on 22nd Street.

After navigating part of Caswell Hill, I managed to get across 22nd at Avenue M. As I was stopped on 20th Street, I was approached by a young woman who offered sex for money. It was 8: 20 a.m.

As I ignored her and turned left on 20th Street, the contrast couldn’t have been more stark. Riversdale is going through a rebirth and economic revival, yet here was a woman prostituting herself when she probably should have been attending school.

Two years ago, I walked down 20th Street with a camera. Looking back at my photos, I am amazed at the changes in the area since those photos were taken.

The city has improved the streetscaping. Shift Developments made an investment with The Two Twenty and Collective Coffee. New restaurants have opened up, others have reinvented themselves, or are moving in. The Friendship Inn has had a successful building campaign and features a new Rider green façade that looks great.

The side streets are showing signs of life, with new businesses moving in and new projects getting underway. Even the closure of the Little Chief police station will probably add to the street as new tenants move in.

If you are an entrepreneur, it is good in the ‘hood.

While the city, Riversdale BID and the business community have come together to do some great things for the business district in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill, a lot of the social issues have not been tackled.

While gentrification is happening in Riversdale through the improved quality of housing, proximately to downtown, a revitalized 20th Street and the Meewasin Valley improvements has pushed some of the poverty issues further west to Pleasant Hill and Confederation areas, and north toward Mayfair.

It’s progress if you own a home in Riversdale; not so much if you’re in one of the other neighbourhoods.

How bad is it in Mayfair? My wife works in retail and has had johns approach her on more than one occasion. She no longer feels safe walking the two short blocks home. She was also approached as she went into work one morning at 6 a.m.

With two "massage parlours" in the neighbourhood, a growing number of prostitutes along 33rd and side streets and, for a while, a brothel on our street, Mayfair has become an unofficial red light district. Along with the sex trade, we get discarded needles and johns circling the streets, and we get harassed by prostitutes as we walk to the grocery store in the evening.

Colleagues in Pleasant Hill tell me that spouses of staff members are often harassed by prostitutes as they wait for the midnight shift change.

Last summer, when I made regular 8: 30 a.m. trips to this facility, we were often greeted by the women working the side streets where they were not quite so visible to the police.

Traditionally, law enforcement has been used to stop prostitution and the accompanying crime it brings to neighbourhoods. It has worked in Riversdale. I rarely see the women on the corner on Avenues B to G any longer.

Five years ago, they would bring their johns to the parking lot across from the Salvation Army and the Farmers’ Market in case the trick goes bad, as it often does.

That never happens anymore. The johns now park on the side street beside my house in Mayfair. This is success if you live in Riversdale, but not so much for my children. In addition to a yearly tax increase, I now get to pick up used condoms and needles off my boulevard.

I wonder if this is the "right track" that the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce is speaking of ?

There are 600 women being trafficked in and out of Saskatoon. Reports say there may be as many as 200 underage girls engaged in prostitution. In addition, you have countless other women doing what they can to survive on the streets.

I have talked to many sex trade workers while at work at the Salvation Army. They have been deeply damaged by society, and many are struggling with mental health issues, addictions, or acquired brain injuries. They don’t need to be relocated, they need to be helped off the street.

While organizations like Egadz and their street outreach have made a big difference, more needs to be done. If not, the improvement and success of some neighbourhoods and business districts will continue to be paid for by those less fortunate.


© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra moving to Riversdale

The StarPhoenix’s Cam Fuller has the story.

The SSO announced Wednesday it will occupy the building at 408 20th St. West, less than one block west of the Roxy Theatre. It will be the first time the organization has housed all of its components under one roof.

The building will allow space for rehearsals, meetings, administration and storage. It will also house the symphony’s book and music sale inventory and the sale itself. The sale raised a record $119,585.08 this year.

The symphony’s first silent movie event at the Roxy Theatre last year got it thinking about the neighbourhood and helped developed a relationship with Tom Hutchinson and Terry Stannard of Magic Lantern Theatres, and Randy Pshebylo, executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District.

“That’s really the first time we’d been in the neighbourhood,” Jill Reid, SSO general manager said Wednesday.

“We had such a good reception there, we were so welcomed.”

The SSO signed a 10-year lease on the building, which has been used as a hardware store in the past.

“Good business involves wise investment,” Hutchinson said in a release. “Just as we invested in the Roxy Theatre in the hope that others would see its worth and support it, we know that investing in the future of the Saskatoon Symphony, and bringing its energy to Riversdale where it can be part of all the positive change happening there, will pay huge dividends to everyone involved.”

On my desk at work there is a RFP from the City of Saskatoon asking for a consultants report on how to fix 20th Street.  It may be a little late being put out because there has been more good news about investment on 20th Street than there has been for years.  In many ways it started with both Little Chief Police Station, the Roxy Theatre, and then later with the work that Shift Development Inc. has done with The Two Twenty and Collective Coffee.

A look at Riversdale: Introduction

Far too long ago, I planned to write a series of articles on life in the inner city for this blog.  I wrote a background piece to why I care about the topic and I had hoped to publish an article every week or so.  What I found is that the more I wrote, the more questions I had and the more interconnected the problems and solutions are.  In the last couple of months I have read thousands of pages on urban planning, poverty, crime, gangs, drugs, and prostitution.  I sat in on the Salvation Army’s John School and found myself weeping at the stories of lost girls, women being beaten, and angered by the impact of johns stalking a neighbourhood (it’s happening in my neighbourhood as well right now).  As odd as it has been, I have also found myself walking through Riversdale, talking to guys I know down there, hearing stories, and just chilling out down there.

On top of that, Dave Hutton’s article on the concentration of services in Riversdale a couple of months ago has been the ice breaker in every meeting I have had over since it came out.  Both City Councillor Pat Lorje and Riversdale Business Improvement District’s Randy Pshebylo where effective in bringing up the topic in a variety of interviews over a couple of weeks and in my circles, it generated a lot of debate and discussion.   Shortly after the article came out, I had a chance to talk with Councillor Lorje and Mr. Pshebylo at The Salvation Army Community Services open house we met with them at work later on to talk more about the topic.  After talking with both of them, Councillor Lorje gave me a couple of more articles and papers on homelessness and urban planning which gave me more to read.  I spent a couple of weeks at the cabin reading them and other material and had to endure being called a nerd more than once when people saw what I was reading on holidays (when I said that I was reading Bob Woodward’s The War Within as well, their viewpoint wasn’t changed).  I have a lot of respect for both Lorje and Pshebylo.  Both of them have contributed a lot to the life of the city and they brought up a lot of good points.  Yet at the same time their solution seemed incomplete to me and I wanted to spend some time thinking it over.  Those thoughts, ideas, rebuttals and replies started to get written down and will be posted here in pieces over the next month.  If you miss something, don’t worry, I will be linking to each piece at the end of each post. 

As to where to start, I thought I would offer my initial thoughts on part of Dave Hutton’s Star Phoenix article.

I still remember the morning the article came out.  We get a couple of Star Phoenix’s delivered each morning (by the world’s bravest paper kid) to work and I normally wander in, check out the log books, chat with staff, and read the paper.  Since we have more staff right now than normal with the training of staff for the much delayed Mumford House, I now read The Star Phoenix online in my office over coffee.  By the time I got to my office my e-mail and voice mail were flooded with people asking me “did you see what Pat Lorje said about you?”  Well know I hadn’t and I went online to see what was up.  The entire article is worth a read.  You can read the article here.

The overabundance of support agencies for poor and homeless people concentrated in Riversdale needs to be addressed in what the city councillor for the area is calling "solution by dilution."

"The simple fact is that the status quo is not working," Coun. Pat Lorje said in an interview. "We need to think about alternative models."

Many of the city’s social supports for homeless people are concentrated in the area, trapping people in negative lifestyles, Lorje said. The result is the creation of a society unto itself, from which it is harder to pull people out because they are exposed to more intense levels of the forces that cause, and keep, people homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol, Lorje said.

Consolidating existing services and spreading support agencies throughout the city would help, she said.

"The issue is not just poverty," she said. "It’s the concentration of poverty."

Lorje is backed on the issue by the executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District. Randy Pshebylo says the burden of helping the homeless and drug-addicted needs to be shared by other neighbourhoods.

The concentration of any one thing — be it bars and pubs, pawn shops, retail stores, restaurants or social organizations — diminishes the strength of any neighbourhood, Pshebylo said.

Missions and soup kitchens are better suited for the avenues adjacent to 20th Street than the main business strip, he said.

"We just want an equitable neighbourhood," he said. "You don’t put your sink in your living room."

Lorje isn’t calling for a moratorium or freeze on social organizations in Riversdale — a step taken by other impoverished neighbourhoods in Canada and the U.S. — but said there needs to be less overlap.

"I would encourage organizations and church groups to start consolidating their services," she said. "It’s not a competition to see who can do it best, it should be co-operation to see who can do it most effectively to get people off the street."

The part of the article that jumped out me was this.

Many of the city’s social supports for homeless people are concentrated in the area, trapping people in negative lifestyles, Lorje said. The result is the creation of a society unto itself, from which it is harder to pull people out because they are exposed to more intense levels of the forces that cause, and keep, people homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol, Lorje said.

It’s a frustrating quote to read.  We fight against the culture of drugs and alcohol everyday at the Centre.  We do everything we can to help people move on from the lifestyle.  Since the housing boom and the rental increases took hold and our length of stays increased, we have done a lot to help guys get “unstuck”.  We have added two full time caseworkers to help clients who don’t have a plan to find safe and sustainable housing to get one.  Than we provide follow up as they overcome their barriers to housing.  Once they are ready to move out, we provide them with household goods, help them set up an apartment, and provide support when they are out (if needed).

In addition to that, we have always taken a tough stand against drugs and alcohol abuse and it has never been popular with clients, parents, other social agencies.  As a staff, we pay a cost for that stand.  I have had the lug nuts loosened on my Honda Accord, windows smashed, clients who have tracked down where I lived and had my son’s life threatened.   Having my own life threatened is so routine that my response is often flippant.   We had to taxi a staff member to and from work for months because of the severity of the threat against him (and honestly, he was just sitting beside me having a cup of cold coffee when the guy threatened him).  We pay a lot of money for evidentiary breathalyzers (and the literally thousands of tips we go through a year), we don’t take in guys who are still actively using and have banned known drug dealers (who have moved down the street from a Narcotics Anonymous meeting where they pick off people who are heading to the meeting), we have drug tests to help us determine drug use and the best course of action for our clients, as well as non stop bag checks, room inspections, and even the occasional police dog wandering through and yet it seems like there is a bigger problem with drug use then there was ever before and not just in Riversdale (see my post on this from December 2009).

So yes, Councillor Lorje is totally right, there is a culture of drug and alcohol abuse.  The question I have is whether or not the homeless shelters and social agencies contributing to it.  That’s an incredibly hard question to answer.  The more I read about the problem, the more I was convinced that the problems in Riversdale (and other urban cores) were being over simplified.  Yes there is a problem with the concentration of services in Riversdale but it’s a lot bigger than that.  As I have been mulling the issues that affect Riversdale and other urban areas, the more I kept thinking of Thomas Homer-Dixon’s book The Ingenuity Gap.  In it Homer-Dixon writes that the world’s problems are escaping our abilities to manage them.  As problems grow in complexity, so the solutions.  When I was a kid, there was always problems in Riversdale.  You could always see a drunk or two outside the Albany or the Barry Hotels.  Now there is the booze, the moonshine, the drugs, the theft, the prostitution, the gangs, the guys with untreated mental health issues, those struggling with all of it and it is concentrated in one part of the city.  The question is why and what do can do you about it?

So the plan is to first look at the problem and it’s interconnectedness.  After that, I’ll head back to what I see are the solutions.  Tomorrow we take a longer look of concentration of services in Riversdale and try to figure out their role in all of this.