So far this year, the city’s community safety officers have dealt with 165 homeless camp files, removed 195 truckloads of garbage from public spaces and achieved a 93 per cent file closure rate within 48 hours.
Those were some of the highlights Chad Cowles, manager of community safety, offered during a June 28 update on the city’s Community Social Safety Initiative (CSSI).
Cowles said the city’s CSSI Action Plan is fully operational, and the multi-faceted initiative is attracting attention from communities around B.C. as the data continues to show the effectiveness on the front lines of the community.
The 35 programs and initiatives within the action plan have been mobilized, and Cowles credited the Community Safety Officer Program as being a key component.
“Bringing together a team of people that are street smart, understanding, compassionate and committed to help people first has been the heart of the CSSI program,” said Cowles.
Cowles also updated councillors about ‘Project Daylight’ that sees CSOs and RCMP at work in the community starting at 6 a.m. to ensure local businesses and their customers are not arriving to find people loitering in their entrances.
Another important component of the plan has been the Community Resource Hub, he said. It is funded by $1.3 million in provincial and federal grants, and was initiated by a network of local community organizations, to serve people that are unhoused or under-served by social programs.
“One of the things our CSOs heard very early on in our deployment was ‘where do you expect me to go’ when we were interacting with people camping on private property or having negative interactions in the downtown,” said Mr. Cowles.
“The Community Resource Hub provides a place for people to access basic health care, food, a shower, and connection to treatment and support services that could literally change their lives.”
The Hub had nearly 4,300 visits in 10 months of operation. There have been 87 referrals to treatment and recovery, and 97 housing referrals.
“This has been a game changer. We don’t want to just move problems around from place to place, our integrated approach and the collaboration between local agencies has allowed us to connect people with life changing services. City staff are volunteering to help people complete their taxes, claim benefits and get proper ID. Other Hub Team members are getting people essential medical care and submitting housing and treatment referrals. This program is about meeting people where they are and saying ‘how can we help you today,” said Cowles.
“With the HUB in operation we see a 21 per cent decline in CSO calls for service in the downtown core. This demonstrates the great value to businesses and citizens in the Town Centre.”
It is currently operating three days per week at the parking lot of The Ridge Church, but the goal is to expand it to five days per week, he said.
Mayor Mike Morden thanked councillors for having the courage to try something different and invest local tax dollars from the Community Safety Reserves in a new and innovative approach.
“The CSSI is a demonstration project to show that there is a better way to address problems that are prevalent in every community. Fifteen communities in B.C., that are tackling the same challenges many cities are seeing throughout BC and North America, have reached out to learn more about what we’re doing that’s proving to be a best practice,” said Morden.
“We dared to take a different approach, one that understands human behaviour and its underlying factors. This tier of service is a responsive, effective addition to our public safety program. We set municipal priorities to have police respond to the more serious criminal activity, and CSOs intervene on matters that call for different solutions,” he said.
The CSOs are trained to work with persons who have complex problems including mental health and substance misuse issues, and tap into the social safety net, said Morden.
“Our plan, a first in BC, has been fully implemented within our financial limits,” he said. “This city-led solution recognized societal problems shouldn’t necessarily default to the police, but often are best tackled under a model of collaboration. Council were mandated to take on what is predominantly a provincial responsibility, however we took this on because the business community and the public were angry, frustrated, and demanded we respond.
“We’ve done that, but there’s so much more work to do to pick up from the interventions our team makes every day, such as infill the gaps in the continuum of housing, demand access to treatment, healthcare, which are in critical demand, all of which are necessary when you’re building a complete livable, healthy and safe community for all.”
Have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.