Downtown's eyes and ears
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/05/2020 (1123 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
At the corner of Portage Avenue and Colony Street, Perry Squires and Joel Hildebrand check on a half-dozen or so people who are hanging out in a bus shack late at night.
Instead of opening the door to ask if everyone is OK, the Downtown Watch ambassadors are forced to do the job behind a sheet of glass. Communicating through a window has become the new norm.
“Is everyone all right in there?” Hildebrand asks after knocking on the glass bus shelter to get everyone’s attention.
There’s an unresponsive man inside on a bench. Squires knocks and asks the lady next to the man to wake him up. She gives him a nudge and the man half-heartedly raises his head and waves off the men in red uniforms. Squires and Hildebrand nod and keep on walking.
Downtown Watch roams the streets from 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. If they see things such as drug use, fights or someone who needs medical attention, they call 911. They also pick up syringes, report vandalism, walk people to and from their cars and make sure businesses in the area are secure.
They’re the eyes and ears of downtown.
With so many businesses forced to close their doors because of the COVID-19 pandemic, having Downtown Watch around keeping an eye on those buildings is more vital than ever.
A few days earlier, an ambassador looked through the window of a local business and saw a pipe had burst and water was leaking.
On this night, Squires and Hildebrand don’t come across anything quite that exciting which is, in their line of work, not a bad thing. The most notable moment of the final hour of their shift is finding a pair of syringes in a back lane between Garry and Fort streets.
Even though the streets have been quieter the past few weeks, there’s been no decrease in the number of needles they pick up.
In fact, they admit the pandemic hasn’t changed their job all that much besides the number of people and cars in the area. With no Jets games or concerts taking place, traffic is at a minimum.
You could cross the street at a moment’s notice and make it to the other side untouched. It’s tempting to do so, but you won’t see these guys jaywalking.
“Yeah, that’s part of the job,” Hildebrand says with a laugh, standing on a lifeless street, waiting for the white “walk” symbol to appear.
As unnecessary as it may seem, Squires and Hildebrand patiently stand and wait for the official signal to continue on their patrol.
— Taylor Allen