Residents, business owners say drugs are growing issue

“I don’t think this is a panhandling issue, this is a drug issue.”

At the front of his Queen Street West store and in the alleyways behind his home, Scott Cramer can’t escape the addicts doing deals in crack cocaine.


“They go into the back alley to smoke. They’re not even hiding it. It’s out in the open,” said the owner of Neurotica Music where he works and lives.

Queen Street West has long been a mixed-market location where the club kids and art fiends could slum it with the down and out, but during the past four or five years, residents say the criminal element has become more threatening, more aggressive. They’re blaming the decline, in part, on an influx of crack.

Calls to clean up the strip were renewed this week after the stabbing death of Ross Hammond, a 32-year-old from St. Catharines who, after refusing to give money to aggressive panhandlers, got into a fight and was stabbed to death a week ago. His funeral was held yesterday, while 21-year-old Nicole Kish was charged with second-degree murder. Three others have been charged with aggravated assault.

Kathi Prosser, chairman of the impromptu Queen Street West Residents Association, said people should blame the drugs, rather than homelessness or poverty alone.

“I don’t think this is a panhandling issue, this is a drug issue,” she said. “It’s got nothing to do with panhandling and everything to do with crack and crystal meth.”

One of the accused, Faith Watts, also known as Sarah McDermit from California, was a known hard drug abuser in her hometown, according to police. It is not known if any of the other accused were involved in drugs.

Leslie Saunders, co-ordinator for the Meeting Place adult drop-in centre at Queen and Bathurst streets, said they started to notice the crack problem in 2002. “It seems to be getting worse and worse every year,” she said.