Meet the 'Grey Shirts': Downtown Community Support Team entering first winter
An initiative in Regina's downtown that recently secured city funding to continue operating next year is heading into its first winter.
The Downtown Community Support Program launched in June and is available to provide a range of services to those in need. Council voted unanimously in favour of providing $200,000 to fund the program through 2022 on Thursday.
Alyssa Marinos, the program's supervisor, said it's encouraging to see the city support their "harm-reduction" approach.
"I think it's a good sign the way the trend is going in thinking of these preventative approaches instead of being reactive and responsive," said Marinos. "Instead of trying to fix a problem after it's already happened, we're trying to prevent the problem from occurring."
"It's a good initiative, both for downtown for the businesses, for the public, for the people who live downtown and for the residents who may be experiencing difficulties or issues," said Mayor Sandra Masters following Thursday's meeting.
The funding through next year gives more time to collect data on the program's effectiveness.
"More businesses are open and we do have more people downtown so as that moves through winter and into the summer months how effective is it, and whether we build upon it, maybe replicate it in other areas," Masters said.
The support team is known as the "Grey Shirts" by some of the people they've worked with in the downtown for their grey shirts with the team logo on the back.
"We take that as a term of endearment and a good sign that we're welcome in the community and what we're doing is from the heart," said Marinos, adding she hopes it can help spread the word and build trust.
A major piece of the program is its ability to act as an alternative to calling police in situations like someone dealing with a mental health or addictions-related crisis.
"We don't want to continue criminalizing issues such as homelessness, such as addiction, such as just those basic needs that some folks don't have. That's where we would be that first line of defence, per se," said Marinos. "We have relationships with these folks, so we have that unique ability to meet them where they're at."
There are still times police need to be called, but more often than not Marinos said it comes down to basic needs "nine point five times out of 10".
"It is somebody who just needs somebody to listen, it is somebody who perhaps needs something cold or warm to drink depending, or just access to transportation to get where they need to be," Marinos said.
The team operates out of the Regina Downtown Kiosk in City Square Plaza and can often be found serving food, hot drinks and more to people at no cost. Warm clothes, hygiene products and more are also available.
“We’ve kind of shifted into a different, the same role but a little bit different where we are collecting donations for warm clothing, for things we can give out to the community," Marinos said.
Members of the team have backgrounds in social work and with other community organizations and use those skills to help people with forms like housing applications.
The team also conducts on-foot patrols around downtown, carrying backpacks loaded with all kinds of supplies for everything from needle pickup to snacks to cover a variety of potential needs.
The team is also working with other organizations like the Comeback Society and the Cathedral Community Fridge to offer soup and bannock on Sundays.
"They’re walking around, they’re connecting, they’re consulting and talking and creating that relationship in that community. It’s just so important to see such a ground-level program in Regina," said Alicia Morrow, co-founder of the Comeback Society.
"It takes a lot of trust and courage for these individuals to allow us into their lives, they don’t do it easily and we don’t ever take it for granted," said Marinos.
So far the Grey Shirts have helped four people find housing, one of a handful of early success stories the team hopes will continue into next year and beyond as word spreads and trust grows.