Police worry about budget cuts at social agencies as crime rate increases

Calgary police say they're worried provincial budget cuts affecting social agencies will diminish broader efforts to handle an ongoing drug and addictions crisis that has led to increased crime.

The Calgary Homeless Foundation, which helps fund about 30 agencies in the city, says its budget will drop by $3.2 million, or nearly eight per cent, in the current year.

It means the Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership, better known as the DOAP Team, will dramatically scale back its patrols and response to people struggling with addiction on Calgary streets.

"I'm quite worried, if we see a decline in services available to the city, what that's going to mean potentially as we continue to move forward with more crime, more social disorder and continued drug and addictions," Insp. Rob Davidson says.

The cuts are part of a temporary provincial budget that's in place until the Kenney government passes its first formal budget this fall. Libraries, school boards, arts groups and Calgary police are also facing funding uncertainty leading up to the October budget.

In a statement, Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney said, "our government and our partners will continue collaborating to support and invest in the programs and services that vulnerable Albertans rely on."

Davidson says the social agencies facing cuts play a critical role in helping people who use drugs deal with underlying challenges that lead to crime, including homelessness.

"I'm really concerned about how we're going to be able to move forward and handle what has been a steady increase of calls for service, social disorder and drug-related crime," he says.

Reid Southwick/CBC

Police data shows Calgary's crime rate was falling — before fentanyl exploded in the city's illicit drug trade and the economy was hit by a recession.

Since then, crime has generally been on the rise.

In the city centre, Davidson says police deal with 30 cases of violent crime a week, and about half of those involve assaults with weapons or attacks causing bodily harm. He says the violence is linked with an increase in property crime, including break-ins and car prowlings.

"If you have an addiction, you're using drugs and you have to find a mechanism for supporting that addiction, and that quite often is property-related crime," Davidson says.

"The violence, quite often, [involves] thefts or arguments, so it tends to be, for people who live and sleep rough, very dangerous and very violent."

Cuts will mean no DOAP Team response outside city centre

The DOAP Team deploys several groups of outreach workers to respond to people with addictions, a service that's meant to relieve pressure on paramedics and police, who would otherwise take the calls.

The recent budget cuts will eliminate funding for four of its teams, which typically transport 20,000 people a year from the street to shelters or other places to stay, according to Kathy Christensen, executive director of Alpha House, which runs the DOAP Team.

"What that means is that there will be no response outside of the Beltline or downtown at all," she says.

"There's no other team that is doing this work in the city, so it will get offloaded somewhere, though, and I think it will get offloaded onto an already stretched public service system. And that would be Calgary [Police] Service and Emergency Medical Services."

Christensen says the cuts are expected to come in two waves, starting with a relatively small blow in September. She hopes her group can find funding elsewhere allowing all DOAP teams to remain active through the winter. But bigger cuts are expected this spring, which will lead to the reduced patrols and response.

Diana Krecsy, chief executive of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, has said local agencies will continue to house current clients, but the cuts will hamper efforts to prevent others from becoming homeless.

Krecsy says she hopes the province's upcoming budget will restore the cuts and even increase funding for her foundation.