Two stalls from where she parks downtown, Barbara Bowes examines the remains of a party in the Smith Street parkade.
"There's a Liquor Mart about three blocks down, so they go there and then come here to party," Bowes said, pointing to the empty whisky bottles and broken glass strewn on the concrete and graffiti scribbled on the walls.
"They are here after 3 o'clock on any given day. Fridays are especially bad."
Bowes, whose office is across the street, said she is concerned for her safety and that of co-workers in the parkade. She knows of other businesses that have moved their employee parking elsewhere for safety reasons.
The stalls along the street level are in view, but parking spots toward the back level are hidden by a concrete wall.
'We have not only our own staff visiting the garage, but we have both the Downtown BIZ and the Winnipeg police in the garage on a regular basis'— Julian Jones, Impark's senior vice-president of corporate development
"We had to move five women (parking spots) from the back (hidden) level to the front of the parkade in view because they were scared. There was too much partying back there," said Bowes, who writes a column for the Free Press.
Bowes said she believes a lack of employee presence on site has made it easier for people to congregate there.
"All these parkades... none of them have an attendant. Whether they have security cameras or not doesn't matter. If someone is going to hit you, they're going to hit you and the camera will just capture it," Bowes said.
Bowes has been in constant contact with Impark, which owns the parkade, and said she is pleased with steps Impark has taken to improve safety.
"They've assigned a janitor full time to clean up every day. They've given us a direct number to call if we have disturbances. They also did construction so you now need a pass to get access to the stairway," Bowes said. "So now the stairway is safe, because before it was not. It was filthy."
Julian Jones, Impark's senior vice-president of corporate development, said the company is aware of the safety concerns and is addressing the situation.
"We have slightly more hours for the attendant than we used to," Jones said. "We have not eradicated the on-site presence. I don't think that is the issue. The challenges are really external to the facility.
"We have not only our own staff visiting the garage, but we have both the Downtown BIZ and the Winnipeg police in the garage on a regular basis," Jones said.
Jones said police have constant access to the garage and have been provided with access cards.
"We've been working hard, both with the Downtown BIZ and the local police, to make sure that the parkade is as safe as possible, and we're also working with the owner to explore additional changes to the garage, which could make it safer," he said.
Shawn Matthews, supervisor for safety and development with the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, said parkades get special attention. The Downtown Watch ambassadors patrol areas where people may feel unsafe.
"We are the eyes and ears of downtown," Matthews said. "When people who may be causing a disturbance see the patrols, they tend to leave because they know that we phone the police."
The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ provides a safe-walk program in which people can call to be walked to their cars.
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There is also an outreach program called the Community Homeless Assistance Team (CHAT).
Jason Syvixay, managing director of the Downtown BIZ, said they have helped more than 50 people in the past two years find permanent residences or get back to their communities. Preventive programs, such as CHAT, aim to find a permanent solution for homelessness and in turn, make the downtown streets a safer place.
"Our outreach workers focus on relationship-building to respond to the needs of the community," Syvixay said. "They play more of an advocate role in connecting people to the support they need."
— with files from Ashley Prest
Tips on staying safe
Pay attention to your surroundings.
"If you feel unsafe, you can always call Downtown Watch and we will escort you to your car," said Shawn Matthews, supervisor for safety and development for the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.
Try to park in a well-lit, visible area.
Hide valuables, electronics and loose change.
"Cars with something valuable inside will be targeted," Matthews said. "Prevention goes a long way."
Have your keys in hand.
"Cars now a days have an emergency button, if you're afraid just press it. It makes a lot of noise and that's a good deterrent," said Matthews.