Three mobile outreach teams are now active on the streets of downtown Winnipeg, providing support to the city’s vulnerable populations, one year after the creation of the Downtown Community Safety Partnership (DCSP).
The partnership’s teams assess the social needs of people downtown, provide first aid if/when needed and help to connect them with community services.
The province said Tuesday that the $5-million project has been a success so far and has helped to create a safer, more connected community.
“The Downtown Community Safety Partnership interacts with and provides support to downtown Winnipeg’s vulnerable population in a way that police cannot,” said justice minister Cameron Friesen.
“Our government is proud to support the DCSP, which in just one year has mobilized three outreach teams that provide 24-7 culturally appropriate support in a community-centred way.”
DCSP community outreach liaison, Mitch Bourbonniere, said the work his group is doing has never been more important, in light of the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools across Canada, and the impact those discoveries have had on many Winnipeggers.
“One hundred per cent of our people out there are directly affected by residential schools,” said Bourbonniere.
“The folks that we love and we support out there have had trauma. Trauma leads to mental illness. Trauma and mental illness leads to addiction, and that all leads to more trauma.”
Bourbonniere said he’s proud to see his team led by women and BIPOC individuals, saying it helps to provide culturally appropriate services.
“We reflect the people that we are supporting, and lots of our people actually have lived experience and understand — not through a university degree or through literature, but through living it.”
The teams have collectively carried out more than 2,000 checks in the past year, as well as having made 450 housing referrals and responding to 100 calls for medical assistance.
The CONNECT and Community Outreach Advocacy Resource (COAR) teams have now been joined by the additional presence of the Mobile Assistant and Connect (MAC247) team — which has members who can administer advanced first aid in non-emergency situations and reduce demands on police and fire/paramedic services.
“Having all three of our DCSP outreach teams mobilized is a big first step for us in ensuring a continuum of care downtown,” said Bourbonniere.
“Organic interactions and really getting to know people are foundational to building a healthy downtown community, and that’s exactly what our DCSP teams are doing as they connect with citizens and grassroots organizations.”
The DCSP is also collaborating with the United Way on 211 Manitoba — a service where members of the public can call 2-1-1 if they have concerns about non-urgent safety and wellness when it comes to downtown residents. A call to 211 will get a DCSP response team involved.
The opposition NDP, however, raised concerns over future funding of the project.
“Community-led initiatives are integral to connecting vulnerable Manitobans with the resources they need to thrive. That’s why it’s such a shame today to see the PC minister of justice refuse to answer basic questions about future funding for this program,” said justice critic Nahanni Fontaine in a statement.
“Without long-term provincial funding, community organizations are forced to direct staff and resources to chasing down funding for the next year – that’s time and energy that could have been spent building relationships, advancing reconciliation and working with communities.”