Sometimes it takes just a little action and a bit of leadership to make life better.
Susanne Andrey, Block Watch captain, and her sister and co-captain Nancy Coburn, finally took action after watching a problem worsen for more than a year near their homes at the end of Villa Road, off Uplands Drive. The problem was Morris Lane, a 30-metre long foot path connecting Villa Road and Morris Place. An overgrown laurel hedge formed a canopy over the path, trees, shrubs and blackberry bushes blocked streetlight illumination and sight lines down the pathway and concrete crash barriers served as handy benches.
A combination of neglect created an inviting hang out for teenagers.
Teenagers gathering isn’t a problem in itself, but the graffiti regularly sprayed on a neighbour’s fence and structural damage to the fence allegedly caused by those hanging out was.
Strange vehicles would come and go in the night and noise from the pathway also raised the specter of potential crime and safety issues.
“We wanted to kick it before it started getting worse,” Coburn said. “The graffiti started getting worse and little things were happening.”
The women contacted RCMP Const. Gary O’Brien, vice-president of Block Watch B.C. and Block Watch coordinator for Nanaimo. He set up a Block Watch meeting and laid out other groundwork for setting up a Block Watch chapter for the area.
Block Watch is a crime prevention and deterrent program that reduces neighbourhood crime by relying on communication between neighbours who relay information about suspicious activity to each other and police.
Block Watch training also lays out the guidelines for when to treat a situation as an emergency and call 911 or versus merely gathering and passing along information.
One of the greatest benefits, Andrey said, is people get to know their neighbours through sharing a common goal of maintaining a safe environment.
Because multiple families provide eyes and ears about goings on in a neighbourhood, Block Watch does not require large time commitments from any one person, nor do people need to be home 24 hours a day to keep an eye on things.
More than 40 homes in the area are now part of Block Watch Chapter 42.
“In several months they have signed up almost 95 per cent of their entire area,” O’Brien said. “When people see results, like we’ve achieved with Morris Lane, they want to get involved and they realize it’s not costing them anything, but a little bit of their time.”
The city recently supported the effort by sending out a work crew to trim the laurel hedges, clear out the blackberries, shrubs and trees and remove the concrete barriers. Graffiti on the fence still needs to be cleaned up, but Andrey and Coburn both said young women and mothers with children no longer feel intimidated or afraid to walk through the pathway at night.
“Now the light shines down the pathway,” Coburn said.
“They got their neighbours together and working with police to solve an issue that was impacting their quality of life,” O’Brien said.
“This is just one of many blocks that are experiencing significant changes in quality of life as a result of organizing together and forming a Block Watch.”