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Downtown safety, vibrancy the focus of new Calgary task force

Recommendations will come out throughout the 120 day sitting of the leadership table, Mayor Jyoti Gondek said.

Calgary has struck another downtown safety task force to provide recommendations to tackle public safety in the downtown.

They also announced the addition of a dedicated downtown addictions team to help respond to calls in the core area.

The announcement was made Wednesday at Calgary city hall with members from the City, the Calgary Downtown Association, Inn from the Cold, and the Alpha House Society.  

The group, dubbed the Downtown Safety Leadership Table, will identify gaps and barriers in the current system, plus provide a slate of direction actions that can be taken by the City of Calgary to improve public safety.  The group will work for 120 days and, using evidence-based, data-driven decision, make recommendations along the way.

“This is a move that brings together a targeted focus group dedicated to improving the downtown experience for every Calgarian,” said Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

She said the group will ensure the downtown has safe and vibrant spaces, and coordination with the city and private sector to deliver services and assess the need for further investment.

Calgary Downtown Association (CDA) Executive Director Mark Garner said that the challenge of the chronically entrenched and service-resistant Calgarians dealing with drug addiction and mental health issues persists. Garner will be the team’s co-chair along with Inn from the Cold Executive Director Heather Morley.

“Based on these evolving needs, as the mayor had said, the CDA is stepping forward to see that business plays a role in developing the solutions that are needed for the most vulnerable in our community,” Garner said.

Garner added that they want to help identify the immediate fixes, but also be a part of a plan that looks at needs six months to five years out.

Informal becoming formal

Calgary Downtown Association executive director Mark Garner describes their zone approach to data collection in downtown Calgary. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

When asked how this group differs from either the province’s public safety task force or the City’s own Downtown Coordinated Safety and Security Committee, Mayor Gondek said that this is the culmination of different informal meetings over the past 18 months.

“It allows that group to actually outline some of the actions that need to be taken by the city,” she said.

“We’re relying on these folks to give us the action items that we need to take to heart and that we need to coordinate from a municipal level.”

The mayor also said that it could identify areas that lack a specific jurisdiction and the need to find a way to prevent those things from falling through the political cracks.

“We all know that action is the imperative right now. There’s been enough talking, there’s been enough dialogue. Let’s get to some actions that need to be taken,” she said.

Garner said that they hope to find quick-win, low-hanging opportunities. The CDA has already begun collecting different types of data through zones they’ve identified to help them manage issues as they arise.

“We have to have a different sense of urgency around things that are in our control as part of the municipality, but then also identify the things that we need to be advocating for at the provincial and federal levels,” he said.

The group’s makeup has yet to be determined but could include a wide range of downtown stakeholders, including community groups.

“I think the group they come up with will be a diverse one,” the mayor said.

“It will be robust and we’ll see some good ideas coming forward from them.”

What’s old is new again

A newly-funded outreach team was a part of the announcement on Wednesday.

A downtown-focused Human-centred Engagement and Liaison Partnership (HELP) team, formerly known as a Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) team, will once again patrol Calgary’s core.

Initially launched in 2005 as a mobile team to deal with street-level intoxication in the downtown, the operation has expanded over the past 15 years beyond the confines of Calgary’s core into surrounding areas where social support is required.

They’re currently working with a main team (city-wide), plus teams that work in the Beltline, on International Avenue, the East Village, and on Calgary Transit to reach people impacted by drug addiction and mental health issues with help to access social services.

Shaundra Bruvall with the Alpha House Society, the group that administers the HELP teams, said the need for their services is widespread across the city. Having a new downtown team will allow them to reach people in need across Calgary.

“It is so great to have partnerships with the CDA to have some of those dedicated teams who can relieve pressure off of our main team so that they are able to kind of respond to those wider city calls,” she said.

Bruvall said their teams operate in pairs and are addiction support workers or outreach workers. They rely on building relationships with vulnerable Calgarians.

“That rapport sort of allows us to understand where that individual is coming from to understand what their needs might be to direct them to the right services,” she said.

Garner said that money that was allocated for the downtown ambassador program has been redeployed to fund the new HELP team. He estimated that was between $100,000 and $200,000 to get the team up and running.

He said that they will begin putting together a team of people and associated measurables in place in the very near future.