SUDBURY -- Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger met with the Sudbury media Tuesday afternoon, moments after an hour-long meeting with several groups to talk about what can be done to improve safety in downtown Sudbury.

While police statistics show there have been fewer violent incidents downtown, two recent stabbings – one fatal – has brought the issue to the top of the public's mind in recent weeks.

It's something common to downtowns in northern Ontario, where open drug use and violence has created a climate of fear among residents and businesses.

The hour-long meeting Tuesday included representatives from police, the health unit, city staff, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the downtown BIA and Angela Recollet, representing Sudbury's Indigenous Sacred Circle.

Bigger said city staff are already working on a number of initiatives, including cleaning garbage from the area, a concern he has heard from business.

Garbage an issue

"The BIA and business people and residents in the downtown, one of the things that they're concerned about is trash cans getting turned over and garbage on the streets," he said. "And so we've identified a team that will be working through public works that will be in in the downtown within the next week or so, and they'll begin to do clean up. They'll respond to 311 calls for, I would say trouble spot areas … You'll see city workers downtown essentially on a very frequent if not continuous basis."

Bigger also said a plan approved at city budget time to add more security personnel at the transit terminal will be put into motion.

"I've asked (city staff) to go through that process of identifying what that would look like," he said. "Council has already approved the funding for that increase in the presence of security officers in that general area."

Chief Paul Pedersen is also planning to designate a team focused on the area, Bigger said, that will "increase their actual presence in the downtown. And so that's you know, that's another immediate action that we're seeing as a result of the meeting that was called today."

COVID having an impact

While it's the opioid crisis that is behind the problem, the COVID-19 pandemic has also made things worse. Not only are supports harder to access for vulnerable people, there are fewer people overall frequenting downtown since so many people are working from home.

"You less activities happening in the downtown and so some of the people that are struggling in downtown happen to be more visible," he said. "Also, we've seen our Off the Street Shelter report today. It indicated that they've been at capacity since opening all except for two nights."

The process of installing brighter, LED lights downtown will be accelerated, Bigger said, with an eye on making people feel safer.

"We're really searching for any kind of solutions that, ideally are already funded and planned, and how do we accelerate them," he said. "As well as other solutions that we might be able to implement (to get us) to the other side of this."