Review of Calgary’s Plus 15 and social supports among downtown safety panel’s recommendations

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Safety panel releases recommendations for Calgary’s downtown core
WATCH: The findings of the downtown safety leadership table were released publicly on Wednesday. As Adam MacVicar reports, Calgary city officials are reviewing the recommendations aimed at improving safety in the downtown core. – Mar 7, 2024

A panel tasked by Calgary’s mayor to find solutions to safety concerns in the city’s downtown core has released its final report with a list of 28 recommendations aimed at improving the situation.

The Downtown Safety Leadership Table, struck in July 2023, spent the last six months consulting 45 individuals and organizations throughout the downtown core including Indigenous elders, and conducting a survey of 350 downtown businesses.

“During consultation, downtown residents, visitors, business owners and operators expressed concerns and shared perceptions about downtown safety,” reads the report. “The most serious concerns relate to open consumption, drug poisonings, vandalism, encampments, and the high visibility of populations experiencing addictions and mental health issues.”

The 25-page report identified gaps and challenges across four main categories including government response, strategic communication, community collaboration and specialized initiatives.

The recommendations range from “quick wins” that could be achieved within one year, to “system impacts” that will require multiple levels of government and could take upwards of three years.

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“The recommendations in here will be frank, and will be focused on what we need to do for better safety outcomes for all Calgarians,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said.

The short-term recommendations include improved cleaning and maintenance in public spaces throughout the core, updated city policies for managing homeless encampments and improved availability of public washrooms.

The report also suggests establishing year-round daytime resource centres that provide support and access to services for individuals experiencing homelessness, similar to the coordinated cold weather response in the winter.

Bringing a police station back to the downtown core is also recommended to help increase officer presence.

In addition, the report also suggests a review of the usage and feasibility of the city’s Plus 15 network downtown, with a call to identify sections of the walkways that may be “suitable for closure or dismantling” to “encourage more street-level foot traffic.”

The report claims the Plus 15 network is “rife with safety issues” after hours and on weekends.

“We need to take a more comprehensive look at access, closures or supportive services that may be required in the Plus 15 network as part of the complications with mental health and additions,” said Mark Garner, the panel’s co-chair and head of the Calgary Downtown Association.

In the longer term, the leadership table recommends advocacy to the province to develop a community court in Calgary aimed at addressing bylaw citations, breaches and warrants related to social disorder and property crime “resulting from complex addiction and mental health.”

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It also asks the city to work together with the provincial government to implement and expand resources for Calgarians experiencing complex mental health and addiction issues.

“We know that between the housing crisis, the affordability issues and an opioid epidemic like we have never seen, providers and organizations working with the most vulnerable and at-risk populations, we need to move quicker to catch up,” said Heather Morley, the table’s co-chair and CEO of Inn from the Cold.

While advocates support the recommendations included in the report, some are questioning the length of time behind the report and how the city plans to implement the list of recommendations.

“I think that group of experts could’ve written that report seven months ago,” Brian Thiessen with Calgary Act Now told Global News. “It’s a good report, lots of things to act on. My reaction is similar to a lot of Calgarians, where’s the sense of urgency?”

Gondek said the city is reviewing the recommendations to determine potential costs and actions that could be brought to city council.

“I will work very closely with my colleagues, particularly Coun. Terry Wong, who represents the downtown, to make sure things either make it as notice of motions, or some sort of direction collaboratively with administration to ensure we can provide that solid decision point,” Gondek said.

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However, the panel noted there are some recommendations the city has already acted upon, including a $1.9 million grant for civic partners to help with safety concerns.

The report “overwhelmingly” found the cost, and staff time required by downtown businesses and organizations to respond to social disorder and crime is “untenable.”

The report came at no cost to the City of Calgary as members of the Downtown Safety Leadership Table volunteered their time as part of the effort.

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