Alpha House‘s DOAP (Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership) team workers are teaming up with Calgary Transit peace officers at downtown CTrain stations this summer to connect the city’s vulnerable population with help rather than just focus on enforcement.
The initiative is part of a pilot project funded by the City of Calgary aimed at providing an empathetic opportunity for connections to be made and to make people feel more comfortable with riding the train.
“Regular transit users are generally very patient, but they do see folks on the train that they know need assistance,” Brian Whitelaw, Calgary Transit’s superintendent of public safety, said on Tuesday. “So rather than them having to make the call to us, this type of program really tries to proactively deal with folks who really shouldn’t be on the train and need to be some place else, particularly if we can get that housing component in place and if we could get folks registered into our low-income programs. This is vital and important.”
Alpha House staff say sometimes enforcement isn’t the best approach. They hope this new partnership will be a good way to reach out to clients who may need more help.
“When I went out with the team, we came across some people who were panhandling, so we try to find out why they are panhandling at certain stations and can we provide some more longer-term options so they aren’t accessing transit that way,” said Adam Melnyk, outreach manager with Alpha House.
“We have a great officer that is partnered up with us,” Melnyk said. “She is familiar with the population and takes a more empathetic role in this where we can look at some of those individuals that are accessing transit quite a lot — maybe some people that are causing issues on transit — so that we can then reduce those issues overall.”
The new project is welcome news for regular downtown transit users like Janet Fehr.
“There was one young woman recently, I’m not sure if she was impaired by alcohol or drugs, but she was sitting leaned over, and every time the train stopped I thought she was going to fall off her seat,” said Fehr, who added she wanted to make sure the woman didn’t get injured.
Melnyk said it’s currently a challenging time in Calgary because Alpha House staff are seeing large issues around addictions and many of those people end up at transit stations or on the train.
“There’s a reason why those individuals got there,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a choice issue. It’s more trauma in their lives. I would hope people would reflect on that. Sure it can be intimidating, but really, being empathetic and caring with these individuals goes a long way.”
Whitelaw said the project is also intended to make members of Calgary’s vulnerable population feel safer and know that peace officers are there for their safety as well.
“When you don’t really understand that population, sure they look scary,” Whitelaw said. “You may not want to approach them. So this is breaking down barriers as well. A key barrier is also with members of the vulnerable population who get to interact with the Calgary Transit peace officers in a way that hasn’t traditionally been the approach.”
The pilot project started in June and will run until the end of September.