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$16M in Calgary crisis response cash doled out to dozens of community support groups

The destination of roughly $16 million to fund Calgary crisis response was rolled out Thursday to more than 30 city organizations.

The funding, which had already been earmarked from the City of Calgary fiscal reserve and the Calgary Police Service budget, is part of the Community Safety Investment Framework and the reallocation of police funding.

It’s essentially a 50/50 split between the city and the police.

The city’s $8 million went to 24 organizations, while the CPS distribution went into 11 programs or organizations.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said this was about making sure that Calgarians get the right safety and wellness supports they need, at the right time.

“Through this we want to create a system that provides Calgarians experiencing a crisis with access to the most appropriate crisis response services when and where and how they need them,” he said.

“Support is needed now more than ever.”

Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld said this is the direct result of Calgarians’ desire to improve response to crisis calls. Chief Neufeld said that it’s no secret the Calgary police are the default response service for people in crisis.

“What we know is that the appropriate response, and the much needed help for these sorts of circumstances often requires the work of our partners in the community – the mental health commissions, the health professionals, the addictions folks, and the victim support services,” he said.

“By reallocating funding to enhance these responses, we can all better serve our community and support our frontline officers in their important work.”

Ambassador program – East Calgary

One program set to receive $178,000 in funding is the International Avenue / 12 Community Safety Initiative’s (12CSI) ambassador program.

It’s modelled after the 9-block ambassador program being used in downtown Calgary.  

12CSI executive director Larry Leach they’re taking the best aspects of that program and implementing it along International Avenue in Calgary’s southeast.

This program will employ three people who will interact with people along 17 Avenue SE (International Avenue). They will help provide wayfinding, look out for vulnerable citizens and refer folks to agencies that can help.

“Once we’re able to sort of look at the data over a time period of roughly a year, then we’ll be able to assess and see if we should expand it further into the areas,” Leach said.

They will be documenting types of interactions and interventions in the area. They will track the locations to chart where activity is most common.

It will generally be a daytime program, but not necessarily 9-to-5, Leach said.

Leach said they’ve been working on solutions to address social disorder in the area for the past few years. This came up as a viable option.

“We’ve been working on it for quite a while, so it’s a great thing to get started. And now the real work begins,” Leach said.

Selection process

More than 50 applications for the cash were received through the Calgary police. They were vetted through a decision-making criterion for each the City and the Calgary police.

The Calgary police selections were based on cultural change within the service to address systemic racism, advancing equity and inclusion, reduced demand for patrol officers and improved call response and service delivery through partnerships.

The city wanted programs that increased capacity for support networks, increased access to community programs and court diversion. They also wanted improved crisis triage, improved case management and improved 24-7 access to support and outreach.

“We have the priority area of strengthening existing crisis support, and the second project priority area was around transforming Calgary’s approach to people in crisis,” said Melanie Hulsker, Director of Calgary Neighbourhoods at the City.

Overall, Chief Neufeld said they expect to do more proactive work with citizens in crisis. That’s what diverting this funding allows them to do. He said call volume will drop by reducing repeat calls for the same individuals.

Further, in cases where folks are sent to hospital, many times they don’t need two officers sitting there with them. He said it’s important to have the right people there with these individuals.

“I think we’ll see a number of outcomes, around reduced calls for service, which I think are a little bit difficult to protect right now,” he said.

“But also some significant efficiencies within the system itself.”

Also included in the funding announcement was $360,000 for research into transforming the city’s crisis response.