Why workers face fear when attending shifts downtown

Photo by: Charlie Martin

When walking down St. Paul St, it’s difficult not to notice the shattered cracks on Pizza Pizza’s glass front door window. The smash looks as though the window had been punched at full force, and a question arises: how safe do downtown workers really feel when they work a shift, knowing that even the business’ front window could be shattered at any moment?

“If you are working at night, you’re not going to be safe unless you are working in a team,” said Teresa Sagastegui, an employee at Pizza Pizza whose experience allows her to answer this question. “If you are just working by yourself, when the delivery drivers are out, you’re scared about your safety. Any time drunk people can come, homeless people can be very violent, and even teenagers – they can be very violent.”

The smash on the window has become a topic of conversation at the nearby Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts. Students were puzzled as to how or why the smash may have been created.

Gang activity has seen an increase since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic within the community. The amount of gang activity within Niagara has increased so much that the Niagara Regional Police have been given a provincial grant in fighting this form of crime. According to Statistics Canada, the amount of violent crimes within Niagara have risen from 2,719 incidents in 2017 to 4,166 in 2021, an increase of 53 per cent in four years. Statistics Canada also reports that St. Catharines has seen a rise in crimes, such as breaking and entering, rather than violent crime which has been heightened across all of Canada.

Sagastegui stated that while she was not present at the time of the incident, a coworker recounted the events to her. “He said that it was a homeless person; he didn’t get the thing that he wanted. Sometimes, we give out free slices for the homeless, but they are asking for more things – like pops, or dipping sauces, or even wings. Or, they don’t like what they receive, so they start punching themselves, or each other, and they get very angry. That’s why it happened. He didn’t get what he wanted, and then he smashed the window. He was smashing everything – tables, garbage cans, and everything. Eventually, he got the door.”

Sagastegui stated that while she has had times of consistent fear in the past, she is able to take solace in security measures that Pizza Pizza has in place. “I was working years ago, at night, and I was afraid all the time to stay alone here without my friends, who are the delivery drivers. You feel unsafe, but as long as you keep everything locked, you’re going to be fine,” said Sagastegui.

Sagastegui is also able to feel more secure thanks to the ability to call the police for assistance at any time. “When I was talking to my bosses about this situation, they always tell me, ‘don’t hesitate to call 911.’ If you feel unsafe, or you feel like someone isn’t treating you right, you just call the police – 911, right away. Don’t wait for anything, and just go.”

Sagastegui wishes to warn job-seekers about the risks of working downtown, and to make the topic of safety a high priority with bosses before a job is accepted. “When you get a job downtown, you always need to talk to the bosses and the managers. You need to ask, ‘what is this situation?’ and how you’re going to solve it with them. Before you get a job, just talk about what safety’s going to be like with the people in charge.”

For St. Catharines’ employee resources including mental health services, visit the link here.

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