Calgary establishes Downtown Safety Leadership Table to address public safety

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Calgary establishes Downtown Safety Leadership Table to address public safety
WATCH: Calgary's mayor has given a newly established advisory group 120 days to find solutions and action items the city can take to improve safety in the downtown core. Adam MacVicar reports. – Jul 5, 2023

The City of Calgary is striking a Downtown Safety Leadership Table to take “immediate” action in addressing public safety concerns in the downtown core.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek announced the new focus group on Wednesday afternoon. It will be co-chaired by Calgary Downtown Association executive director Mark Garner and Inn from the Cold executive director Heather Morley.

The focus group will sit for 120 days to identify gaps and barriers within the downtown core, while also finding targeted and action-oriented approaches to public safety concerns. This includes intentional but compassionate intervention measures, according to Gondek.

The aim is to create a vibrant and safe environment for Calgarians while also ensuring the approaches are rooted in evidence-based decision-making, the mayor said.

Gondek also announced the establishment of the Human Centred Engagement and Liaison Partnership (HELP) team, formerly known as the DOAP team. It was initiated in 2005 by Alpha House as a mobile diversion response to the toxic drug crisis.

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The new team will still service areas across Calgary such as the Beltline, East Village and International as well as transit stations. It will also team up with the Calgary Police Service and EMS to respond to calls from businesses, community members and other agencies that serve the homeless population.

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“I’ve said many times that the issues of homelessness, addiction, crime and safety are wicked problems that require us to move past ideologies and work together. They also require multifaceted solutions, many of which are already being actioned,” Gondek told reporters on Wednesday.

“This leadership table is a new way forward, and it’s not just another typical government-led group. We are taking the politics out of the issue and we’re letting those with on-the-ground experience guide the work. The 120-day timeline is aggressive, and it’s been designed to ensure that we’re responding quickly and preparing for the winter months that are to come.”

David Wallach, owner of Barclay Street Real Estate, said he is optimistic about the Downtown Safety Leadership Table but wants to see the city deal with the “growing issue.”

Wallach said the focus group needs to put out a plan that matches the city’s growth. Data from the Alberta government showed Calgary had a population of 1.4 million in 2022, a three per cent increase year-over-year and a more than nine per cent increase in the last five years.

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“I think that we’ve seen a big change in the last few years in terms of security, in terms of people’s confidence to be downtown … I think that people, especially women, are afraid to leave downtown after hours,” the real estate agent said.

“We work with a lot of the local and tenants in the core and in the Beltline, and what we hear from them is that employees are afraid to take the LRT and afraid to stay after hours.”

Wallach added the city also needs to speak with people who work downtown.

“Why don’t you interview the employees and see who is afraid and why are they afraid and what the issue is for them to be here?” he said. “You have to come down to the people level and understand the core of the issue and the core of that fear and deal with this.”

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