The Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce hosted a discussion on how to improve the downtown Wednesday.
Crime and poverty were some of the big concerns.
Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) said they’re trying to connect people in need to services supporting mental health and addictions.
“When staff at some of these facilities aren’t able to address the needs of the community they serve, often times we’re called in to be a substitute and I think there’s a better way to do that,” said Chief Troy Cooper.
SPS said they’re working with providers on different approaches.
“Police have a role to play in public safety but there are often times other service providers that are more appropriate, so we’ve done things like form an alternate response officer program,” Cooper said, adding one solution is working with community organizations.
For example, the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) has been pushing to open a wellness centre downtown to house vulnerable people.
Their plan is to help people heal their trauma so they can get off the street.
“Indigenous people bring value, they bring opportunity, they want to be part of the economy, and this is a good opportunity to keep working and make sure we’re doing things properly,” said Tribal Chief Mark Arcand.
The STC said treating everyone with dignity will help improve their lives, and ultimately, downtown.
“It’s the holistic way of doing things,” Arcand said.
“We’re providing three meals a day and some of the shelters don’t do that, so that’s something we’ve seen. We’re providing fridges, microwaves, washer and dryer so it’s kind of like their home.”
Some businesses downtown, meanwhile, are struggling with less foot traffic during the pandemic, according to the downtown business improvement district.
“Having sports teams, travelling, those sorts of things really help. On the business travel side we need that to go up, we need conventions to return,” said Brent Penner from Downtown Saskatoon.
A recent study from the University of Saskatchewan found how safe people feel downtown affects whether they spend time and live there.
It said making downtown more attractive for everyone will help people feel safer.
Meanwhile, the proposed wellness centre and shelter for downtown is closer to getting approval.
City council is holding an emergency meeting Thursday morning on whether to approve the temporary emergency shelter.
“We want to be open for Friday at lunch time, 1:00,” said Arcand.
“(Our staff are) all getting trained right now anticipating this is going to happen, so we’re being optimistic right now but we’re being hopeful.”
Arcand said they have some details to work out, but getting people out of the cold is the priority.
Many local businesses and organizations have offered donations. The tribal council said they’re grateful, and in addition, they need money.
They have enough funds for around two months but are applying to the federal government for $1.4 million to stay open until the end of April.