A committee of experts tasked by the City of Calgary with providing downtown public safety recommendations is now beginning work on finding solutions to address addictions issues, housing concerns and crime.
The Downtown Safety Leadership Table sat down for its first meeting last week in an effort to take immediate action and identify gaps to public safety barriers.
The focus group consists of the following six members:
- Heather Morley, executive director of Inn from the Cold;
- Mark Garner, executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association;
- Supt. Scott Boyd of the Calgary Police Service;
- Jay Islam, a government relations manager;
- Clare LePan, VP of communications and strategic partnerships at Calgary Municipal Land Corporation; and
- Katelyn Lucas, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society.
Both Morley and Garner are co-chairs for the committee, which will sit for 120 days before offering a report to city council in January.
Morley notes that that the team is aiming for recommendations centred around compassionate intervention and says they will be speaking with a variety of stakeholder downtown to get to the root cause of safety issues.
“We’ve seen unprecedented demand for services, it’s the pressures of affordable housing and families are being pushed to the brink unable to pay their rent or feed their kids,” she said.
“So, affordability, access to services, I think this is all very real with mental health and addictions concerns here in the city, but I think that the resources and services working together along with all the orders of government will start to move the needle on this on this concerning issue.”
Co-Chair Garner adds that there isn’t a ‘one-size fits all’ solution and that the complexities surrounding safety will take time to measure and understand.
“One thing that is becoming apparent very quickly for us, is the need for data and information,” he said.
“We need various organizations that are scheduled to come in and present what they’re seeing on street, but then also the accumulation of that data, we need to make informed decisions as this table to be able to determine what are the measures that we constantly want to see.”
Garner says his team wants to get it right ‘the first time’ and will be meeting bi-weekly with different stakeholders ranging from first responders, businesses and those with lived experiences on the street.
He notes that all levels of government will have to come together as well.
“Businesses and various other social agencies and organizations that deploy services are going to work together in a way that we’ve never worked together before, to address the complicated issues that we’re seeing on street in Calgary.”
In a statement to CTV News, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek says her team is looking forward to “receiving recommendations from the Downtown Safety Leadership Table and acting upon them as quickly as possible.”
“From early 2022 onwards, the mayor’s office convened a series of meetings with downtown businesses, social service organizations, property owners, post-secondary institutions and impacted City of Calgary business units to better understand and act on public safety issues,” reads the statement.
“The result was the addition of a downtown outreach and crisis response team, public transit safety improvements and identification of the need for a high acuity housing facility. We further struck the Downtown Safety Leadership Table which is mandated to convene experienced advocates and continue the generation of ideas for action by municipal and provincial governments.”
‘WE NEED MORE SOLUTIONS’: DOWNTOWN ATTACK VICTIM
Nicky Lang was walking out of her workplace on Eighth Avenue in the downtown core last October when she was approached by a stranger with a knife.
“I was just at the end of my shift, waiting for my husband to come pick me up, and when I came out, there was a man who was deranged, delirious and on some sort of (drugs),” she said.
“I was attacked,” she said. “Thankfully, I wasn’t physically harmed, but the emotional stress it’s caused me has made me no longer feel safe coming out of my building. That’s lasting.”
Lang says she feels the downtown core has become more unsafe over the past few years, and her hope is that the Downtown Safety Leadership Table will address those concerns.
“We need more solutions for the homeless and to make sure (drugs are) off the street. We need more police patrols, more of a secure network and communication.”
David Wallach, owner of Barclay Street Real Estate, agrees. He says he wants the table to deal with the issue of Calgary’s downtown growth.
Data from the Alberta government showed Calgary had a population of 1.2 million in 2022, which represents a three per cent increase year-over-year and a more than nine per cent increase in the last five years.
“I’ll give you an example,” Wallach said. “The downtown was very clean during Stampede. All of a sudden, it was very nice to be downtown, we had a lot of tourists and no problem, but we need more security all year round.”
“The task force that the mayor has put together, they have to come up with a plan not just a report, we are tired of reports, it’s time to have a plan to clean the issue in downtown.”
Wallach also hopes the table will speak to people who work and live downtown.
“Many of my tenants say the LRT is not safe and downtown is not safe, so they have problems, especially females walking late at night,” he said.
“It’s not just our tenant, this is also what we hear from service providers that work with us in the area, and that’s going to grow if we don’t deal with it now.”
According to the latest statistics from the Calgary Police Service, incidences of violence in 2023 are on par with last year,
In 2022, the Downtown Core, East Village and West End saw 122 incidents of violence, and as of Aug. 31 this year, the area had 90 reports of violence.
When it comes to incidents of social disorder for the same area, last year there were 7,876 compared to 5,757 as of Aug. 31, 2023.
Alberta’s UCP government deployed a dozen sheriffs to the downtown earlier this year as part of a pilot project the ended in the summer, and is continuing to be evaluated.
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