Hanks says that sometimes the loiterers gather right under the restaurant’s sign out front. Photo by Shaela Dansereau.

Local Restaurant asks City for help with excessive property damage caused by continuous loiterers

Employees say that they are scared for themselves and their customers.

In the last two years local Wetaskiwin restaurant, Castle Steakhouse, has called the RCMP for assistance 144 times. Since their change to their 56 Street location, the staff and guests of the steakhouse have been subject to consistent disturbances, acts causing property damage, threats of violence, and emotional and physical assaults.

At the regular Aug. 14, 2020 City Council meeting, Castle Steakhouse employee, Jessi Hanks, spoke to City Council to ask for their help.

Part of her plea was for the City to approve a property line fence for the restaurant, which Castle would pay for. Castle Steakhouse requested the approval of a fence when they first applied for their business licence, according to Hanks.

Hanks says that a large group that are both from Wetaskiwin’s local homeless population, and others Hanks says she knows aren’t from the Wetaskiwin area that consistently gather on the lawn directly behind, and sometimes in front of the restaurant.

Regardless of the hour, Hanks says they will show up drunk, and continue to drink, do drugs, fight, loiter and litter right beside the restaurant. She says there is a constant scattering of litter including alcohol and drug paraphernalia, and even bio-medical waste hazards.

“They never hide it,” Hanks says about their blatant drug use on the property. “They are here starting at about 10 a.m. and they don’t leave until about 10 p.m…. We’ve seen them smoke meth right there, we’ve seen them drink right there. The only time I’ve actually gotten to see the heroin is actually in our bathrooms.”

The requested fence would stop anyone from gathering on the grass behind the restaurant and Hanks hopes it would also discourage those causing the issues from using the location as a party spot.

Right next to the area behind the restaurant is Castle Steakhouse’s storage unit sea can. Hanks says it is terrifying to have to venture past the often belligerent crowd that gathers to get supplies, such as more tableware, from the sea can; unable to see who is waiting directly outside.

“It’s a very uneasy, unpredictable feeling,” Hanks says.

In addition to the crowd causing unrest in the parking lot, they have not been shy to come inside to threaten staff and customers.

She says that at their previous location the restaurant had a homeless Wetaskiwin man that visited often and was very respectful to the staff and property. “He was very nice, respectful to us. These people who are coming now, they are not respectful.”

Hanks says they used to allow them to use the restaurant bathrooms as a show of good faith until the disturbances and destruction of property became a serious issue. She says some of the issues they have faced include but are not limited to people defecating on the property outside, pulling out genitals, breaking bottles, coming into the bathrooms and leaving fecal matter smeared on walls, and leaving drugs and other bioharzardous items behind.

“It is a really quick shot from the door to the bathroom, so if you are not really paying attention they go,” Hanks says. She says it is difficult to have to keep an eye out for them while balancing a crowded lunch or dinner service. “Thirty minutes later and they’re still in there. It is really intimidating to be like ‘you have to leave, you need to get out of this bathroom’. The other night I went to clean it and one of them had vomited on the wall and I had to clean it.”

Waitresses are having to clean bioharzous materials, something they are certainly not trained to do.

Hanks says that the staff is terrified to walk to their cars at night, check the bathrooms and go about their jobs regularly.

These disturbances are affecting the restaurant’s business, Hanks says. She has had regulars contact her and tell her that they are too afraid to visit their location anymore because of the potential of being attacked.

Hanks explains that there were two regular customers who no longer come to the restaurant because one day they were assaulted by a man and had their bikes stolen while in the parking lot. She says sometimes the crowd gathered can be upwards of 20 people. When RCMP that Hanks called showed up the man who was getting arrested was swearing at Hanks and threatening to kill her.

Hanks says a week later he came back, recognized her and started to call her names and verbally assault her again so she had go inside and lock the doors, terrified while she closed the restaurant by herself about her safety.

On Sept.11, 2020 Hanks was verbally assaulted when a man came into the restaurant, walked up to her and started yelling in her face.

She says from the minute he walked through the door she could tell his intentions weren’t good.

“He began to swear and move closer towards me, calling me obscene names. He got between me and my customers and called me a bitch and told me he was going to hit me in the face,” she says.

The party group will utter threats and Hanks says that the ones that utter threats do remember them, and it is terrifying for the staff.

Hanks has lived in Wetaskiwin her whole life. She says she doesn’t recognize the majority of those gathering and causing issues at the restaurant and recognizes that they aren’t part of the regular Wetaskiwin homeless population. In fact, she has witnessed the group chase away individuals from Wetaskiwin’s homeless population many times from the location.

“I’ve watched them assault our homeless people, tell them to leave, ‘this is our spot now’,” says Hanks.

In the past two years Hanks has calculated the total cost of the RCMP assistance for the calls to Castle Steakhouse and it ends up around $30,000.

Hanks alleges part of the issue is the over serving of these individuals by the surrounding liquor stores, and a lack of transportation within the City and to locations outside the City.

“A lot of people are here because they are stuck in town for the day.”

At the Sept. 14 City Council meeting, Hanks made her plea for Council known.

“Castle employs many local residents, they pay City taxes, and contribute to Wetaskiwin in various charitable ways. Recently the RCMP has said ‘it’s our problem’ and to ‘deal with it ourselves’ the city demands we clean up this hazardous waste, and we won’t anymore. It’s unsafe, and it’s absolutely awful that the City looks the other way. If the City doesn’t want the problem as much as we don’t, we need to work together to find a solution.”

Castle Steakhouse has reapplied for the fence closing in their sea can and a greater part of their property behind the restaurant with the City. They strongly feel that a fence will help, at least in part, to mitigate some of the loitering issues and decrease staff fear.

Hanks assures that despite the challenges the staff will always put their customers and their safety first, and guests can be assured that the Castle employees do everything in their power to make their visit excellent.

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The lawn behind Castle is consistently full of litter including drug and alcohol paraphernalia left behind by the loiterers. Photo by Shaela Dansereau.

Inside Castle. Photo by Shaela Dansereau.

Litter beside the Castle Steakhouse sea can. Photo submitted/ Jessi Hanks.

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