Drug use, theft, squatting and confrontations with staff are on the rise at the Nelson and District Community Complex.
Staff suspended 10 patrons during a two-week period in January, according to Joe Chirico, general manager of community services for the Regional District of Central Kootenay.
His report to the recreation commission on Jan. 28 cited several instances of patrons locking themselves in showers or change rooms, drug paraphernalia found in washrooms, people setting up sleeping bags in the washrooms, money and washroom products being stolen, users not paying to access the facilities, and verbal abuse of staff.
“We’ve had patrons say to us they’re not feeling as safe as they used to be,” Chirico said. “It’s definitely increased staff stress. Oftentimes, if you confront people you’ve suspended from the community, they’re belligerent, they can be abusive – not necessarily physically but verbally, and that takes its toll.
“[It] just doesn’t make the facility a family-positive, public place to come to.”
Staff have installed used-needle containers throughout the complex, locked several doors that used to remain open throughout the day, and are trying to funnel all visitors past the front desk, he said. They’re also considering hiring security.
The challenge, Chirico said, is that people have a right to be in a public place even if they haven’t paid to get in — especially when it is cold outside — and the centre suffers from not having a larger entrance for the public to relax in.
“We know we need to be somehow a part of the positive solution for the community, but we’re still trying to figure out how we fit into that,” he said.
“We want to be empathetic, but we also want to make sure the facility is safe for patrons and staff.”
In 2018, a homeless count recorded 101 people living in Nelson without safe, permanent housing – more than a third of whom had been without it for more than six months.