A candidate running to be mayor of Thompson says homelessness, poverty, and substance abuse continue to plague the northern city, and all anyone needs to do is walk down the streets to see how bad those issues have become.
“If you walk or drive in the city it’s everywhere especially in the downtown core, and when people come to the city for the first time I often hear it’s the very first thing they notice,” Les Ellsworth said on Wednesday.
“Over the summer we estimated we had upwards of 300 people living on the streets, and this is not a large city, so it’s very visible.”
Ellsworth, who is wrapping up his first term as a Thompson city councillor, is now running for the mayor’s chair in the small and isolated city of about 13,500 people located more than 700 kilometres north of Winnipeg, lining up against incumbent Colleen Smook, who will run for reelection in the Oct. 26 election.
Ellsworth said he decided to run for mayor, because he has heard from many that they do not feel safe on the streets of Thompson, and he said he does not believe the current mayor is doing enough to deal with issues of crime, poverty and homelessness.
“I believe my biggest reason for running this campaign is to bring back a city that is safe to live and work in, and one where you can walk down the streets and feel safe,” he said.
“And I feel the current mayor is not leading the way she should be in terms of us being such a high crime city in Canada.”
And recent statistics back up the notion that there is a serious crime problem in Thompson, as the city has consistently ranked among the top communities in all of Canada for rates of violent crime per capita over the last five years.
The amount of crime and homelessness has also affected business owners and commerce in Thompson, according to Ellsworth, as he said some simply don’t want to spend time in the city's downtown area if they don’t have to, while others actively avoid the area.
“Downtown business suffers because people won’t shop alone, or some won’t shop at all, because they see the area and they just don’t feel safe,” he said.
Ellsworth said he now wants to see more dialogue in Thompson on all levels so the situation with crime and homelessness can be brought “under control.”
“The first thing you have to do is have people working and communicating to see what the issues are here in Thompson, and to see if there are ways to get people back on their feet and off the streets,” he said. “My door would always be open for those conversations.”
Smook did not respond to requests from the Winnipeg Sun for comment.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun