Pilot project being launched in Regina to make downtown more welcoming while helping people in need

·3 min read
A pilot project is being launched as early as June aimed at improving downtown. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
A pilot project is being launched as early as June aimed at improving downtown. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

The City of Regina, Regina police and the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District (RDBID) are launching a pilot project aimed at making downtown more welcoming and safe while helping people in need.

The Community Support Program (CSP) will consist of up to four people patrolling downtown streets in pairs between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. They'll work with community organizations to provide food, shelter, health care, risk prevention, harm reduction and crisis counselling to people who are struggling with issues including homelessness and addiction if they want help.

The program will be overseen by representatives from RDBID, the city, police, a community agency, along with an Indigenous elder and someone with "lived experience."

CSP members will also respond to non-emergency calls downtown from people, businesses and police.

"In many ways, a city's downtown is a reflection of its character," Regina Mayor Sandra Masters said when the initiative was announced.

"The City of Regina is committed to the vision of becoming more vibrant, inclusive, attractive and sustainable, but in order to achieve this we recognize that we must attend to the health and wellbeing of our most vulnerable community members."

She says the core of CSP is to find help for people in need, while offering support to businesses that might not be equipped to help them, while building a "stronger sense of wellbeing in the downtown area."

Regina police Chief Evan Bray says the force is "very excited" to be part of the initiative.

He says many of the calls they respond to downtown don't necessarily require a police presence.

"They are calls that can be assisted or more efficiently dealt with by another group, another organization [that's] set up, trained and connected to deal with it."

Bray calls the project a win-win because it frees up officers to deal with calls that require police, while offering help to those in need from people who have been trained to help them.

He says it could also help police identify areas of concern downtown, while having additional people on the ground to call first responders if there's an incident.

Expected to launch in June

Judith Veresuk, executive director of RDBID, says the project has been in the making for "quite some time," and it's based off of models from other cities with a similar program, like Saskatoon.

However, there's a strong need for it right now, she says, because the pandemic has led to fewer people going downtown and, ultimately, reduced assistance for people in need.

RDBID is currently hiring people and is expecting to have a team together in May.

CSP members will be required to have a combination of education, work experience and lived experience in the areas of justice studies, human services, humanities, corrections, social work, family services and Indigenous knowledge systems.

They will also receive training in skills includng de-escalation, mediation, first aid, cultural awareness, mental health first aid, trauma informed practices, overdose intervention, suicide prevention and intervention and addressing issues related to the LGBTQ community.

Veresuk says once the service is set up, people can either talk to CSP members directly or ask for CSP assistance with a call to the police non-emergency line. Police will then connect to a CSP liaison who will respond, if needed.

The pilot project is expected to be operational as early as June 1, with a cost of $267,000 over 18 months.