Guest Blog Author: Constable Jeremy Shaw, Calgary Police Services
April 13th, 2018
Although the City of Calgary still has a Panhandling Bylaw (3M99) on the books, it is evident that ticketing and enforcement is not the solution to homelessness in Calgary. In a not-so-distant past, the relationship between police and our homeless neighbors didn’t go much beyond unwanted guest removals, free transportation to a local shelter, or a cheese sandwich and a warm piece of concrete to sleep on in the local “drunk tank.”
In 2018, we are beginning to understand the complexities of homelessness and our front-line officers are starting to evolve their service delivery to the community. Officers realize that everyone they encounter comes with their own unique set of circumstances. That said, there are commonalities amongst the underlying issues such as childhood trauma, histories of domestic abuse, struggles with mental health, and chemical addictions. What once may have been a very short interaction during the wake up and removal from an apartment building foyer, could now be the first of many meetings in working towards a holistic care plan. Partner agencies have combined their resources to develop case management strategies that are individually tailored for people experiencing homelessness in Calgary. Look no further than the Safe Communities Opportunity and Resource Centre (or SCORCe), that offers a seventeen-agency collaborative approach for people in need.
The Calgary Police Service is thankful for our integrated partnerships with agencies such as the Alex Community Health Bus, the Alpha House Society, and the Calgary Drop-In Centre to name a few. The Alex has been a critical resource for the cities homeless population, as well as officers working the beat. It offers common ground, a place to build rapport, and a place to re-stock on outreach supplies for another long night of chance encounters on the streets. The Alpha House also plays a critical role in the downtown core. They offer a number of programs, the most commonly used being their Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership, or DOAP team. The DOAP team are the first responders when it comes to substance abuse issues and public intoxication. Their transportation and patient care services result in reduced pressures on Calgary Police, Fire, and EMS, and help streamline the patients into relevant social support programs for their needs. The DOAP team is also supported by a dedicated downtown EMS unit who provide critical health care to patients who might be unable or unwilling to go to a hospital. With over 3,000 people who identify as homeless on our streets, the Calgary Drop-In Centre becomes a fixed address for many. They provide access to emergency shelter, health services, community resources, and housing supports to more than 10,000 people experiencing homelessness, marginalization and extreme poverty each year. They are the largest provider of their kind in North America.
Although many people think of homelessness as a ‘shelter issue’ for people without a bed to call their own, they fail to take into consideration the peripheral cause and effects of living on the street. Addiction is common place throughout this demographic. Some people end up homeless because of addiction, and some turn to addiction as a coping mechanism with their life struggles. As a Service, we understand that addiction is not a crime. Although crime is often driven by addiction, we realize that the problem is better solved through treatment vs arrest. In January of 2018, we witnessed the first Supervised Consumption Site open in Calgary. In its first two months of operation, it received over 2,500 visits from 300 individual clients. They operate an evidence-based model that supports prevention, harm reduction, and treatment for people living with substance abuse challenges.
These are just some of the many elements, and how we work together to understand the complexities and help solve homelessness in Calgary.