Rona Park

Nelson police, health authority, politicians meet about ‘street culture’

The challenge is getting business, government, police, and social agencies on the same page.

A local attempt to create a community-wide strategy to deal with policing, mental health, and street culture has taken another step.

Recently, representatives of Interior Health, the police, city council, and the community services society met and developed a list of sectors that will be represented at a facilitated Oct. 1 strategy meeting.

The meeting was convened and chaired by Rona Park of the Nelson Community Services Society as a follow-up to a meeting of various community agencies in June at which Park proposed a downtown street outreach collaboration, and that it use a proven model called a collective impact initiative.

The most recent meeting identified police, community services, churches, health, mental health, business, public services, youth, local government, and education as stakeholders. They invited about 25 people from those sectors to the October meeting.

“It is  by invitation, not a public meeting,” Park says. “We have sufficient anecdotal and hard data telling us we are not responding in the way we need to. We are at the stage of action.”

Park said she wants all the stakeholders listed above to “commit to make something happen, to commit to being at the table” to create a community-wide strategy for how to respond to those who “rely on street culture to survive.”

The five components of a collective impact initiative that Park is recommending the group follow are: a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and funding support.

Accordingly, Park said the purpose of the October meeting will be to develop a common definition of the problem and a common agenda. Without that, she says, different sectors talk at cross-purposes and nothing gets done.

“The business sector may see them as people who should just buck up and get a job. The mental health sector says a certain percentage of them have mental illness and live in poverty and could not get a job, so they are reliant on the street to survive. A difference in perception of what causes the problem leads to a different perception of how to solve it.”

Police chief Wayne Holland, who has been part of these meetings, thinks Park is on the right track.

“She is absolutely right. We support the idea of the collective impact initiative. We will do anything  and work with anybody who will help us with our situation. We would like some help with out workload and that will benefit everyone.”

Asked whether this new meeting might look like more talk and no action, Mayor Deb Kozak told the Star, “Yes we are having another meeting. This is a complicated issue. This is not just a policing issue, it is a deeper issue. Everybody, all these sectors, has a piece of information about this, and I think this also gives Nelson an opportunity to be a model for other communities on how to deal with complex issues.

“The process we are employing with Rona is sound, in terms of how to map out an issue and come to solutions. We are moving toward a long-term solution, not a short term-one.”

Kozak, who in addition to being mayor is chair of the police board, made these comments by phone from a meeting in Ontario of the Canadian Association of Police Governance.

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