Community outreach teams launching on Edmonton's transit system to connect vulnerable people with housing, social supports

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Community outreach teams will soon be making rounds on Edmonton’s transit system to better support vulnerable residents.

Starting this summer, transit peace officers will pair up with social support workers to patrol the transit system and connect individuals in need to housing, mental health supports as well as basic needs like food and clothing. The two-year pilot initiative will cost the city $1.4 million, which was approved by council during the spring budget adjustment.

Edmonton Transit Service branch manager Carrie Hotton-MacDonald said this program, modelled after a similar one in Calgary, will allow the city to better respond to disorder on the transit system and connect people to supports.

“The city is highly committed to providing safe public spaces for all Edmontonians and we’re going to continue to focus on public safety as we recover from the pandemic and provide those tangible targeted solutions to support those in our community who need additional assistance,” Hotton-MacDonald told reporters Thursday afternoon. “We received funding from council to proceed with a new community outreach transit team that will take effect this summer, where a transit peace officer will work closely with an outreach worker and they will be on our trains monitoring people who may be in need, connecting them with referrals and helping connect people to supportive resources.”

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Hotton-MacDonald said the city is also taking several other actions to improve security on the system in the wake of several high-profile assaults, most recently the stabbing of a man at the University LRT Station on Saturday. A beefed-up security presence has been established at 19 selected transit stations as well as a joint transit safety initiative with patrols from police and transit peace officers to monitor hot spot locations.

Lower ridership levels during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to less “natural surveillance” over the last year which has seen an increase in social and security disorder on the transit system including vandalism, harassment, excessive loitering, overdoses, cleanliness issues and threats to staff.

Data released by the city Thursday highlights a 487.7 per cent increase in calls for service to the transit control centre from late 2018 to the end of 2020. Hotton-MacDonald said the 2,298 calls for service in the last three months of 2020 can partly be attributed to the presence of security guards on the system who patrol transit stations and call in any issues they come across.

Later this year, the city plans to implement a bystander awareness campaign and staff training program to help empower bystanders to respond to forms of harassment and sexual violence.

duscook@postmedia.com

twitter.com/dustin_cook3 

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