Ron Beahun has clocked thousands of hours and millions of steps walking Kelowna’s downtown core during the past 15 years.
Beahun is Downtown On Call’s very first employee, a program operated by the Downtown Kelowna Association (DKA).
“When I used to carry a pedometer, it used to be 25 to 30 kilometres day,” said Beahun, the on-street services manager with Downtown On Call.
“Downtown On Call is more commonly referred to as the red shirts, or the red coats depending on the time of the year,” said DKA executive director Mark Burley.
“If you’ve lived in Kelowna for any length of time and been downtown, you’re familiar with them.”
The ‘red shirts’ move loiterers along, keep an eye out for criminal activity, provide safety chaperones when requested and help tourists with directions.
Beahun, who has been with the program since its inception in early 2008, is about to retire.
“One thing I’ll miss leaving is just the people downtown,” Beahun said. “I’ve introduced my family members to some of the street entrenched.”
That’s because a big part of the job is dealing with the city’s homeless population, which he believes has to be approached with a firm yet personable attitude.
“My guys know everybody by name,” he said.
The mandate of Downtown On Call is to create a safe, clean and friendly downtown core. While that goal hasn’t changed, in many ways the downtown landscape has.
“It’s a different attitude now,” Beahun said of describing how criminal activity has changed and some of the people who call the downtown streets home.
“The old folks that were down here were more peaceful and loving, honestly. They’d hang out at City Park, whereas now it’s a different breed. I see a lot of people who aren’t Kelowna residents, they’re coming into town and they do what they want.”
Beahun says the job can at times be dangerous and admits he’s had some close calls over the years.
“Absolutely it’s dangerous,” he said. “We’re just out there walking around. We have no protection except our voice and the training that I’ve tried to supply when to engage and when to disengage.”
According to the DKA, Downtown On Call teams often de-escalate situations without the need to call the police.
“We keep statistics on our calls and the types of calls, whether we’re picking up sharps (needles) or you know what it is. And for every 100 times that somebody calls 470-9058, we only find ourselves calling another agency, mostly the police, 12 times,” Burley.
“So 88 per cent of the time, we don’t need assistance because the guys are used to moving around and making things happen.”
RCMP said the work done by Downtown On Call is invaluable and supports police work in a big way.
“They’re a very big tool that we can use for their eyes and ears. They know a lot of people down there,” said Const. Mike Della-Paolera. “They’re a big part of keeping Kelowna downtown safe.”
Beahun is set to retire at the end of the month.
His efforts will be honoured at the Downtown After 5 event on Nov. 30 at the Laurel packing House.
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