Regina council approves funding for downtown Community Support Team
A program meant to help address downtown safety and security spurred by a review of "unwanted guests" was one topic of Thursday's special meeting of Regina city council.
The Community Support Program is spearheaded by the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District (RDBID) and launched in June on a pilot basis.
Council voted unanimously in favour of the ask to approve a $200,000 one-time grant to support the program into 2022.
A submission to council from RDBID Executive Director Judith Veresuk said this program is the answer to a previous "piecemeal approach" to safety issues downtown like giving input to the Regina Police Service (RPS) on the Unwanted Guests bylaw, providing training and advocating for better lighting in Victoria Park.
"Each effort we made was important, however each effort seemed disconnected from the next," Veresuk said in her submission.
The submission goes on to detail how the program is modelled after a similar one in Saskatoon and a list of some of the early success it's seen, including:
- Picking up more than 200 needles.
- Distributing water and snacks to those in need.
- Deescalating multiple altercations in Victoria Park, reducing the need for a police response.
"We are pleased with the progress the team has made over the past summer," Veresuk writes. "Heading into a very cold winter, our team will continue to be present and available for our most vulnerable populations."
WHAT IS 'THE UNWANTED GUESTS BYLAW'?
According to the administration report before council Thursday, the Unwanted Guests Bylaw refers to an initiative implemented in 2015 by RPS to address "disruptive conduct" happening at businesses. Under this, tickets can be issued to people who repeatedly go back to a business after being issued a ban.
Council instructed administration in 2020 to put the initiative under review, leading to the development of the Community Support Team.
The report said through consultations with various groups including RDBID, the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry and more, concerns were raised the policy "contributes to criminalizing homelessness and addictions and reinforces stigma and discrimination already faced by the predominantly racialized and poor individuals who received a ban or tickets."
RPS was also involved in the process that administration said has resulted in changes to the way police respond to trespassing issues.
"Recent changes made to the enforcement of the initiative are showing a decline in the number of calls to police," reads the administration report. "Ongoing commitment to increasing support for alternative approaches for response can lessen the potential negative implications of this initiative on vulnerable populations within Regina."
The items before council during the special meeting starting at 1 p.m. have been recommended for approval.
Along with the Community Support Team and unwanted guests, councillors also discussed a proposed Community Safety and Well-Being Plan.
The plan explores longer-term strategies to address several issues facing the city including “problematic substance use”, food insecurity and racism. It’s recommended for approval at a cost of $1.375 million in 2022.