Montreal will start sending social intervention workers to respond to calls about people in psychological distress in public spaces downtown.
Starting Sept. 1, the Équipe mobile de médiation et d'intervention sociale (ÉMMIS), will work to de-escalate crises in public spaces downtown and direct vulnerable people to the appropriate resources.
Mayor Valérie Plante says the pilot project is a first of its kind in Quebec.
The city and the Société de Développement Social's announcement comes after several community groups demanded Montreal deploy unarmed agents and mental health specialists to answer emergency calls made for urgent mental health care.
In 2019, the Montreal police service (SPVM) committed to having its patrollers take a one-day course by 2022 on how to defuse situations in motels, parks and dépanneurs, but community workers criticized the training for not being comprehensive.
Five intervention workers and one co-ordinator will make up the team assisting the SPVM.
The service will be available seven days a week from nine a.m. to midnight and will run until the end of the year. The city's ultimate goal is to make ÉMMIS a 24/7 service across the island.
This comes a month after police in the Montreal-area suburb of Repentigny fatally shot a Black man in crisis.
François Boissy, the director of la Maison du Père, a downtown shelter, says there's a "great need" for this kind of initiative because street crimes have become more noticeable since the pandemic.
He says the city hasn't provided a detailed plan about how police and the mediation team will support vulnerable populations.
"Since we're at the centre of this, I think it's a good thing [for Montreal] to reach out … and see how we can help and be partners."