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Parvis business owners shut down early in protest at drug users taking over square
Bar and restaurant owners on Parvis de Saint-Gilles are at their wits’ end as conflict with drug users on the square escalates. Owners shut their businesses down at 16.00 yesterday in protest at the ongoing problem.
According to the businesses, the drug addicts that took to hanging around on Parvis during the lockdowns when the square was empty are now becoming aggressive with their customers and staff. Bart Lemmens, owner of Brasserie de l’Union, told Bruzz that the problem is limited to about 10 individuals who harass customers until they give them money.
He shut his doors along with the rest of the bars in protest at the authorities’ lack of interest in the situation. “We want to draw attention to a problem, which has been going on far too long and is not being taken seriously by the municipality,” he said. “We are having major problems with this small group of people, who are making it very unpleasant here and in fact dangerous.”
Parvis is known for attracting homeless people, as there is a day centre on the square that offers warm meals. There are homeless people who panhandle in the busy square on a daily basis.
The business owners are familiar with those people, and they are not the problem, Lemmens emphasises. The problem is with a new group who are very aggressive. The business owners say the situation is no longer tenable.
Threatened and robbed
“I have women working here who sometime don’t dare to go outside to wait on customers because they are harassed by these people,” said Lemmens. “We are sick of this. When all of us – the bars and the shops – all close at once, it is proof that this is a problem to be taken seriously.”
Workers at Café Le Louvre point out that a redesign of the square saw low stone walls placed around the trees where people can now sit. This has exacerbated the problem for their business, they say, because people gather there, and fights break out. Their customers have even been attacked, said owner Romolo Putzu.
“My customers don’t even want to sit on the terrace anymore because they are always threatened,” he said. “They have hit them with chairs; the customers have actually been injured. The police have to intervene here like 10 times a night.”
Passers-by also note that the entrance to the metro station on the square is also unsafe. “Some of my customers have been robbed at the entrance to the metro,” said Putzu. Some businesses think that the busy commercial square is not the place for a day centre that serves the homeless.
They do note that an increased police presence has helped but that it’s not a structural solution and are asking the municipality for a more long-term approach to Parvis’ problems.
Photo ©Hatim Kaghat/Belga