For a person taking a casual walk along Jackson Street West between Caroline and Hess Streets, its a pleasant neighbourhood. The stately Southam mansion that houses CHCH anchors one corner and the refurbished former IODE mansion is across the street—both remnants of the Victorian elegance that characterised this part of the Durand neighbourhood. Immediately west of the CHCH landmark is one of the many high rise apartment complexes that were built in the area in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The address is 181 Jackson Street West and despite the relatively peaceful ambiance, it, along with its twin tower around the corner at 95 Hess, is home to daily acts of violence, drug-dealing and intimidation. Cars and taxis pull up in front of the buildings every day, leaving their parking lights flashing, as drug buyers and sellers parade in and out of the building. Peter LLewellin who lives in the Jackson Street building reported, “It’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it here. There were 4 Police raids last Wednesday. There are so many Crack cocaine dealers here that even the chronic users are complaining about the pressure of buying and using this stuff. They can’t get away from it.” The most recent outrage, says Llewellyn is apartment “take-overs” where drug dealers literally barge in and occupy an innocent person’s unit so they can sell drugs . Said Llewellyn, “One tenant told me about a Dealer named “Ali” who pulled a knife on him when he refused to let this guy sell product from his apartment. Almost every time you use the stairwells you run into a drug dealer and people are smoking Crack in the elevators and common areas.” Seniors and younger tenants are housed together, many of the senior are justifiably afraid to leave their apartments. Llewellin says he is aware of drug operations on the 17th floor, 15th floor and 8th floor of his building and he says it is worse at 95 Hess. “It’s amazing, these guys operate for years before they are caught”, he says.
Amazingly it appears very little can be done to stop the crime wave. Eviction is difficult. “The only sure way to get evicted”, says Llewellin, “is to not pay your rent.” Given that the offenders have a steady source of drug money they can always come up with the rent. “Even a convicted criminal is not necessarily thrown out,” Peter said, referring to one tenant who was convicted of attacking Peter with a knife, who attacked a women in a wheelchair and assaulted two police officers, yet returned to the complex after he got out of jail.
Peter says if you are homeless or on welfare you can get an apartment fairly quickly, sometimes in a few months. Waiting lists for others are much longer—years in many cases. He says City Housing officials tell him that evictions are rare because persons evicted simply fill up the temporary shelters in the city. “It’s virtually a no-eviction policy.”
Still there is some hope that a recently announced security and safety subcommittee which will involve members of council, City Housing staff, police and tenants will succeed where past efforts have not.The committee, which was suggested by Ward Councillor Jason Farr is in the process of developing terms of reference.