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Old Strathcona business association expands vandalism grant program, asks governments for more support

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A southside business association is expanding a program to help shops in its neighbourhood deal with damage from vandalism.

This spring, the Old Strathcona Business Association started a window repair grant with $165,000 from the city. Only $15,000 of it has been used so far.

It's not because there hasn't been damage to businesses on and around Whyte Avenue. The original grant, however, covered just damage to front-facing windows.

"Businesses are finding that they’re dealing with a lot more than just broken windows," Cherie Klassen, the executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association, told CTV News Edmonton on Thursday.

The business association appealed to city administration and the provincial government as part of a public safety campaign to have the window repair grant program expanded to include other types of vandalism. It was approved on Wednesday.

"We were starting to hear from businesses that they were experiencing vandalism with things like dumpsters and other doors that maybe weren't glass or just other parts of their business," Klassen said.

"They were investing in things like roll-down shutters, security bars, those kinds of things, and none of those were things that they were able to utilize that money for, so we saw an opportunity to really expand that and be able to provide a little bit more ...

"We figured we already have this money, let's just expand the scope of it."

The business association also launched a letter-writing campaign to the province's city public safety task force "to look at addressing some of the larger issues but looking at it through the lens of taking stress off business owners," Klassen said Wednesday during Edmonton city council's executive committee meeting.

"That's what we've been hearing from business owners is that they're front line, and they're dealing with things that are way out of scope to deal with," Klassen said to the executive committee.

One Old Strathcona business routinely dealing with increased disruptions in its store is Long & McQuade music's Whyte Avenue location, which replaced its large front glass windows with stainless steel panels because of repeated vandalism.

"Unfortunately, we haven’t had the training to de-escalate those situations, and it’s definitely risen quite significantly since the pandemic started," assistant manager Lara Tang told CTV News Edmonton.

Klassen said the business association is also seeking more police presence in the area as well as the creation of a street outreach team.

"Street outreach team is definitely one of them because we know that that is going to make a critical difference in supporting our businesses and also supporting folks on the street," she said.

It's the kind of help Edmonton's downtown area has seen but not necessarily experienced by other business improvement areas in the city such as Old Strathcona, Klassen said.

"All across Canada, following the pandemic, there were lots of federal dollars, provincial dollars, municipal dollars put back into the downtown propers where the offices are because many people left those spaces, and rightly so, as they need the investment as well," Klassen said.

"But what we're starting to see in our cities is that when increased resources in those areas happens, it tends to push some of those folks out of those areas and have displacement into areas like Old Strathcona, and we certainly are seeing that here, seeing a different population, the marginalized population and vulnerable population that we don't typically see."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson 

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