Our next most critical need is more day shelter space for our most vulnerable citizens.
Last week, we saw provincial support for 12 additional PACT teams (Police officers matched with Mental Health Workers) and greater police presence in Edmonton’s transit centres and LRT stations.
I supported these actions as the next best things to do to help the most people. And while the announcement was welcome, money needs to flow from the province immediately so that the PACT teams can be formed and dollars made available to support overtime pay or temporary return of retired officers (as two possible examples). We need the money now.
But, as I stated in previous blogs, an increase in police presence will have the consequence of pushing problems out of the transit centres, but not actually solving the problems.
So, what’s our next best move?
We need to support our most vulnerable citizens with effective, transitional day shelters.
We need spaces that are welcoming to those struggling with mental health and addictions. Spaces free from persecution. Spaces that include some form of amnesty from police and judicial processes. Spaces free of shame and blame. Places where you can keep your limited accumulation of property with you.
Places that might include, without judgment, drug consumption supervised by health professionals.
Perhaps places that include managed open-air spaces - encampments - that don’t tolerate disorderly or violent behaviour but do provide a safe environment that allows one to sleep through the night and get a couple of meals. A place that allows a person struggling to deal with their life’s challenges a chance to sit and breathe - and then maybe talk to someone that can help.
Places that become the first step towards recovery.
Places that are dispersed throughout our city.
I supported a significant increase in police presence on transit. We need to make it safe for most of the people all of the time.
At the same time, I agree with those that say we cannot arrest and punish our way out of this problem. That is why I am advocating for a community policing and integrated partnerships approach that builds relationships and does not move to arrests as the first action.
It is not enough to simply push people with challenging circumstances out of our transit centres.
We need to “pull” people to places that can help. Our current shelters are not providing that service in the way that they need, and the capacity of those shelters is not adequate.
Another critical and urgent step will be partnerships between our Edmonton Police Service, the province and other police services to continue to pursue and prosecute criminals.
Each of these organizations has the expertise to offer. If transit is no longer an “enforcement-free” zone, where will the next crime hot spot be? Where do the illegal drugs come from? Do we have a “fringe” around greater Edmonton, beyond the police patrol limits of both the urban and rural police services where criminal activity occurs unchecked? Do we have a gang problem?
We need a strategy that properly meets our most vulnerable neighbours where they are, not where we want them to be.
And we need ongoing strategies to maintain an ongoing police presence on transit, while at the same time identifying and eliminating the next crime hotspots.
People deserve to be safe and the most vulnerable deserve better and more useful attention. Step by step, we can figure this out.
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