Opinion: Urgency needed to improve safety in downtown Calgary

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Ensuring safety in downtown Calgary is crucial for the well-being of residents, businesses and visitors.

To address the complex challenges faced by the community, Calgary’s downtown safety leadership table released its report this week. The recommendations range from establishing a downtown police station, implementing 24/7 co-ordinated street outreach teams, and providing immediate funding for housing and specialized facilities for the most vulnerable Calgarians with complex needs.

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What is missing is a sense of urgency.

Our full appreciation should go to the experts on the downtown safety table for their hard work and contributions. But for Calgary city council, we are in an emergency and, as the waters are rising, we are drawing on a white board when we should be filling sandbags. What can we do right now to act?

A dedicated downtown safety hub should be created as soon as possible. The Calgary police commission and city hall could fast track the implementation of this immediately. It would serve as a vital resource to enhance safety and security in the area.

By having a physical presence in the heart of downtown, law enforcement officers can respond more quickly to incidents, deter criminal activity and build stronger relationships with the community. It would also foster a sense of security among residents, workers and visitors, encouraging economic growth and investment in the downtown.

There should be an intergovernmental affairs ombudsperson responsible for co-ordinating and allocating funding from the feds, province and city. Throughout the report we see an overarching theme — we need a significantly higher contribution from all levels of government, and we need to co-ordinate the allocation of those resources more effectively.

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To address the root causes of crime and improve safety, a 24/7 co-ordinated street outreach team approach is necessary. These teams would consist of professionals from various disciplines, including social workers, mental-health professionals and addiction specialists. They would work collaboratively to engage with individuals experiencing homelessness, addiction or mental-health issues. They need to be housed with CPS and other first responders in the Downtown Safety Hub.

A housing and safe shelters leader must be responsible for moving the ball immediately on required social housing and safe gathering spaces, and specialized shelters for at-risk youth and Indigenous communities.

By providing stable housing, individuals can access the support they need to address their underlying issues and reintegrate into society. Specialized facilities, such as mental-health clinics and addiction treatment centres, would offer tailored services to those in need, reducing the strain on emergency services and the criminal justice system. The lack of housing and social disorder are linked, and we have to act on both if we hope to provide all Calgarians with improved safety downtown.

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One thing mentioned in the report is that the same 50 to 100 individuals are repeat offenders responsible for much of the downtown social disorder.

Someone needs to say this — we need to put them in jail.

There should be a zero tolerance for drug dealers and gangs in homeless shelters. Our sympathy should be reserved for the homeless, addicts and those with mental-health issues. Alberta and federal justice departments need to provide resources and the full force of the justice system on drug dealers and gangs. Identified gang members should be expelled from homeless shelters and pursued without exception as they prey on the homeless and the vulnerable.

Enhancing safety in downtown Calgary requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses the root causes of crime and supports vulnerable individuals. The establishment of a downtown police station, implementation of 24/7 co-ordinated street outreach teams, and immediate funding for housing and specialized facilities are essential initiatives to achieve this goal.

By combining law enforcement efforts, community engagement and targeted support, we can create a safer and more inclusive downtown Calgary for all.

Brian Thiessen is the chair of Calgary Act Now, a group of citizens dedicated to the improvement of Calgary.

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