Frustrated yet hopeful

When she is feeling down, Maureen Sydney is like any other business owner — she asks herself if she's in the right location. Up until a few years ago that would not have even been a question.

In 2013, Sydney opened Peacock and Lime Hair and Esthetics Studio at 3301 Coldstream Avenue in downtown Vernon.  

"It's an excellent location," Sydney says. "I got lucky. I could not have had it any better."  

She calls the area "peaceful" when thinking back on what the location was like almost six years ago. 

"I wonder if I would have looked differently at this spot if I saw then what I see now, frequently," she says.

The area is now notorious for rampant drug activity, crime and prostitution.

Sydney is one of a growing number of business owners who are frustrated and concerned with the state of Vernon's downtown core — specifically, with the effects some of the street-entrenched population are having on business.

Sydney claims the area started going downhill about three years ago when what she calls a "new crop of homeless" began showing up. 

She calls them the "drug-sellers," the "break-and-enter-experts" and the "crime-committers."

Back when she first opened the store, Sydney says, she would notice two or three new faces a day. Now, she says it is more like 10 to 12 new faces every day.

With this "new crop" came new problems. 

From her business, she routinely watches drug deals happen in broad daylight.

Once, while cleaning up the garbage around her shop, she pricked herself on a discarded syringe. She received a clean bill of health after getting tested, but she says she's done cleaning up needles. 

And, on an almost daily basis, street workers are picked up and dropped off right in front of her business.  

One particular incident stands out for Sydney for its shocking and heartbreaking nature.

She explains that on a busy Saturday, a john dropped off a local street worker in front of Peacock and Lime. The reception area was packed. 

Sydney could see in the woman's hand two five dollar bills. The "old codger", as she called him, snatched one of the fives from the woman and then kicked her out of the vehicle. 

The woman then proceeded to spit out the contents of her mouth in full view of Sydney's customers. 

"Whatever she did, she did for five bucks," Sydney says. 

Sydney is torn on the issue she's currently faced with. "It is an inner struggle," she calls it. "Part of me is angry and part of me is sympathetic and compassionate," she says.

"That is somebody's daughter, sister, perhaps somebody's mother. Nobody wakes up and says 'My dreams and goals are to be homeless; to be a street worker; to be addicted to drugs or alcohol.'"

Sydney says she hears from others that it is not just business owners who have problems with this group of "new homeless," but they bully and intimidate other members of Vernon's street-entrenched population.

"The original [street-entrenched] are going to be shut out. They are all being labelled badly," she says. "Those people are not aggressive.  They put their hat out and panhandle or play a guitar and sing and that is a non-issue, those are not the people who are leaving needles outside our doors and alcoholic beverages on our window sills."

Because the area is so active with crime, drug use and prostitution, Sydney has been forced to take certain actions to mitigate the problems. Those efforts have yielded some success. 

"We got a security gate to the tune of $1,800, and our stoop is no longer used," she says. "Something else I changed, I no longer leave our lights on on our awning sign. Peacock and Lime is pitch black at night and the drug use and changing of clothing and fornicating on our stoop have not happened since then. Security gate and lights out, our issues have changed."

Sydney will also stand next to street workers who wait for johns in front of her business. 

"I stand right beside them, and I stand there until they move or cross the street. If they come back, I put my coat back on and stand out there, doesn't matter rain, shine, winter or summer. I have never had to say a word, but the gist of the whole thing is, I am as bad for their business as they are for mine."

The John Howard Society's Gateway Vernon Shelter and the Upper Room Mission are located in the same area as Sydney's shop. Both organizations provide assistance to members of Vernon's street-entrenched population. 

Some business owners in the area have vented their frustrations with the organizations for attracting the homeless to the area. 

However, Sydney doesn't hold any hard feelings towards those organizations. 

"I mean they open their doors and without any questions asked, they will help people. They have bigger hearts than I do. They are not judgemental."

Sydney is calling for patience and tolerance but even more, understanding. 

"I don't have an idea on how to make it better, but I think we need to start talking with these people ... hear their stories," she says.  

Frustrated and tired but not giving up, Sydney wants the conversation to progress.  

"I guess we all didn't have perfect upbringings but we made different choices and, therefore, we are business owners today versus homeless or street-workers or criminals of some form or another."

"I think there's an awful lot of us that need to take a step back and take an objective look, because, who knows what fate could have been there for us," she says.

"We are lucky. We got lucky."

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