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Downtown Oshawa copes through pandemic

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Downtown Oshawa BIA is continuing to work to keep the downtown core safe and clean for the businesses and residents.

By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express

While there have been some minor incidents recently reported in Oshawa’s downtown, the BIA’s executive director says there hasn’t been much change in crime overall, despite parts of the downtown currently operating a little differently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are certain areas that have decreased significantly, mainly due to the lack of traffic on the roads, and then there are other areas that have increased,” says Downtown Oshawa BIA Executive Director Amanda MacDonald.

“We are seeing some vandalism in parts of the downtown, and we are seeing just a few break-ins,” she says, “but our police have responded to all of them and are pursuing all legal courses to these individuals for these incidents.”

MacDonald says the BIA is listening to its members, adding that the businesses and membership have been in constant communication with the BIA.

“Every 48 hours, we call every single business and property owner in the downtown to check in with them, see if they’re open, but also hear their concerns. So we’re pretty up-to-date on what’s happening,” says MacDonald.

She admits there are some challenges and that the BIA has been in contact with the city of Oshawa.

“Mayor Dan Carter has been incredible, decisive, and swift in the actions that he’s taking,” says MacDonald, adding that there are some things that will be changing downtown.

“We want to ensure that everybody is safe. Of course there is not only the businesses to think about, but there’s also vulnerable people who do call downtown Oshawa their home, and they are not necessarily doing anything wrong, and so they need to be thought of as well.”

MacDonald admits there has been increase in garbage on the streets, due to the increase in social services to accommodate the vulnerable population during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are taking care of this by cleaning up, but that is one of our concerns,” says MacDonald, adding that the pandemic has caused a lot of organizations and services to close that the vulnerable population would have normally relied on.

“We did recognize that the vulnerable population did need access to showers and washrooms which they typically access through open businesses, so those are things that we’ve been kind of encountering, and the challenges that we’ve been facing,” says MacDonald, adding that the Back Door Mission is just one of many services right now catering to the vulnerable population, “and they’ve really stepped up to the plate on this.”

MacDonald says they’re on a weekly chat with the Back Door Mission and a number of other social agencies to stay updated with everyone.

Other safety measures in the downtown include increased police patrol in the downtown and bylaw officers out on the streets in the evening, which MacDonald says is not typical.

Furthermore, there is free parking in the downtown to help ensure that delivery drivers coming and going can do so with ease. As downtown Oshawa includes about 65 restaurants, MacDonald says the area is still quite active as most of these businesses are still open.

“It’s really a diverse and cultural cuisine atmosphere and that’s one of the things we’re known for.”

She says there are also some business owners who are on site working, and just not open to the public so as to follow social distancing guidelines, as well as those business owners who live above their storefront.

“There’s a significant amount still happening in downtown, it’s just that you don’t have your foot traffic from people going into the physical storefronts,” MacDonald explains, adding that the daytime hours are usually busier than the evenings in Oshawa’s downtown.

“We do know that we’re a downtown that typically doesn’t stay out too late at night, like we don’t have very many bars and clubs anyway, so we’re just making sure that we’re stepping up the patrol and security during those times.”

MacDonald says the close partnership between the BIA and the DRPS, as well as with the city and other members and partners, is what helps keep the downtown running smoothly and safely.

MacDonald says the whole purpose of the BIA is to ensure its members are being heard and concerns are being addressed.

“The partnerships are essential,” says MacDonald. “The whole purpose of the BIA is to make sure that our members are represented and that these relationships are there. If we didn’t have the collaborations that we currently do, I don’t know how we would even be getting what we’re able to get done, done. They update us, we update them, and we’re always there to help them.”