Jasmine Botter couldn’t stand it when, while walking through the city’s core, a couple of guys ruined what was supposed to be a nice day out.
“It was a Monday afternoon back in September 2020 and me and a friend had decided we wanted to take a walk downtown and grab some of that good downtown Barrie food,” Botter said.
Soon after turning onto Dunlop Street, they were approached by a man wanting to spend time with them, badgering them for their phone number and refusing to leave them alone.
No sooner did they shake him by giving a fake phone number when, after making it farther down the street, did they realize another man was yelling at them.
A construction worker who said they couldn’t continue further because of the construction work at Five Points walked them back to a safe place after seeing how uncomfortable they were about turning back around.
“We were shaken,” said Botter, a 24-year-old student. “We really couldn’t get back to that place of just happiness that we had started our walk with.
“The situation affected me on a very deep level. I ended up researching why these things happen to women, especially in cities, and how it can be changed and I ended up collecting enough information that I just decided to make a petition for it and hope that I could make some change," Botter added.
The detailed petition outlined several points that needed to be addressed.
The community responded. Close to 2,000 people signed the petition and the Barrie Police Service launched a downtown audit.
The result is the Bright Spot project and more lighting downtown complemented by a previous plan to beef up the core’s video surveillance system.
The new Downtown Barrie initiative aims to better welcome visitors, including women, to the city’s core.
“It’s been an ongoing project for the past year,” said Barrie police community safety and well-being officer Const. Keira Brooks.
Brooks said a safety audit was launched as a result of Botter’s petition, leading to the birth of the Bright Spot project. Like the Block Parent program, it provides safe places for members of the public to go if they are feeling unsafe.
Merchants who have posted signs in their shop windows have been trained on how to handle unsafe situations, assess the situation and determine the next steps.
Building owners purchased string lighting installed in two alleyways and are picking up the electrical tab to run them.
A decade-old video surveillance system has also been updated and 10 cameras are being added to the downtown area, bringing the total to 20 in the area.
Const. Brooks "identified some key areas where the downtown could ante up their safety assets,” said Kelly McKenna, executive director of the Downtown Barrie BIA.
So far, 12 businesses are putting up signs indicating the safe spaces people can go to if they’re in distress or feeling uncomfortable and there is expectation that more will come on board.
Other groups involved in the initiative include the Women & Children’s Shelter of Barrie, the Salvation Army, Shak’s World and the City of Barrie.
McKenna said safety is one of the issues the current board is addressing.
Botter said a few strings of light makes a big difference and the hope is that other building owners will pick up on the initiative and add lighting in alleys.
“Not only does it add an element of safety with extra lighting in a very dark alleyway, but just the vibe that the string lights bring, there’s something romantic and so pretty about it that I just think will change the energy downtown,” she said.
Botter is continuing her efforts until all the points in her petition are acknowledged, but says she’s grateful for what has been accomplished already. Updates for those who sign up are posted regularly on the petition site.
“What we have down here is a very fine community of business owners,” said McKenna, adding that the businesses participating in the Bright Spot project demonstrate that they want to be part of the solution.
Current restrictions has resulted in a reduction of shoppers downtown. Shoppers can support the shops online through Locallicious food festival until April 25 or by purchasing Lifeline gift cardshttps://downtownbarrie.ca/product/gift-card/.
Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, barrietoday.com