The Loop: Taking transit safety seriously

·3 min read
Cheryl Whiskeyjack is the executive director of Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society in Edmonton. (Sam Martin/CBC News - image credit)
Cheryl Whiskeyjack is the executive director of Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society in Edmonton. (Sam Martin/CBC News - image credit)

Making transit safe and effective for all is a complicated task.

This week on The Loop, hosts Clare Bonnyman and Min Dhariwal dig into what's happening on Edmonton's transit system. Reporter Janice Johnston shares the story of two women who were attacked in recent weeks, while Cheryl Whiskeyjack tells us about a new initiative from the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society society and how we can make transit work for the entire city.

The following is an excerpt from this week's conversation with Whiskeyjack, Bent Arrow's executive director.

She joined the show to talk about the Community Outreach Transit Team (COTT), a pilot project from Bent Arrow and the Edmonton Transit Service. Whiskeyjack shares how her outreach workers are helping the most vulnerable on the transit system, and making it safe and effective for the entire city.


The following has been edited for clarity

Min Dhariwal: For a lot of people, coming back to transit after being away for a couple of years is kind of new right now. From your experience, what's the environment like on our transit system right now? What are you and your team seeing as they ride the trains and the buses?

Cheryl Whiskeyjack: They're seeing some of the things that you're seeing on the evening news. There are some real concerning things that we're seeing in the transit centres. People that have nowhere to go. ... One of the exceptional stories I heard was a houseless person that had fallen asleep in a transit centre. And when he woke up, someone took his boots. So he had nothing on his feet. It was -30 outside. We got dispatched to come and connect with this individual. You can imagine, it's hard to be outside in -30. It's impossible to be out there when you don't have any shoes on your feet. So connecting him, not just to some boots but some food and eventually a connection to his home community was what we ended up doing for him. Some of these people, we're connecting with them for over weeks.

Clare Bonnyman: How does it sit with you when you hear some of these — sometimes really scary — stories?

CW: I mean, I'm concerned. It's a high priority for our teams when they're out there, that they be safe when they're out there. One of the things I think about when I see those stark images on the evening news ... is the people we're serving out there are just as at risk for those high-risk things that we're seeing. They're just as at-risk — and probably even more so than the average citizen, because they don't have any place to go. If you're a Suzy Citizen and you're going from your downtown job back home at the end of the day on the LRT, you have a place to go when you get there. Certainly we need to address those safety issues for our citizens. We absolutely do. And there is attention being put on that and resources being put toward that. But for folks that we're serving in the COTT initiatives, they don't have a place to go. This is their experience, in a much bigger way than the average transit user who's getting from point A to point B. I'm not trying to minimize it in any way, but there is really no escape for some of the folks that we're coming across.

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