Rona Park.

New collaboration proposed for policing and mental health

Rona Park brought a proposal to a multi-sector meeting last week that caught everyone's attention.

Following Nelson city council’s refusal to increase funding to the city police earlier this year, the question of how to approach an increase in mental health case loads, for police and other agencies, has been a live issue in Nelson.

On June 10, a meeting between the city, the police, the Interior Health Authority and several community service agencies met to start some dialogue on this. Deb Kozak initiated the meeting in her dual role as mayor and chair of the police board.

“Car 87”

One suggestion that has been advocated by the police is funding for a “Car 87” (a police car with a mental health worker in it), but at the meeting the IHA’s Dave Harrhy said that model is not feasible for communities under 100,000.

“We have done the research and the literature reviews,” he told the Star in an interview this week.  “They show that for a community (with a population as small as Nelson’s) that doesn’t make financial or clinical sense.”

He said there would not be enough calls to justify it, and that a social service agency would have to pull staff from their current job to fill the position.

Street outreach workers

At the meeting, Rona Park of Nelson Community Services put forward a proposal for a team of two street outreach workers to interact with those who “rely on street culture to survive.”

She told the Star that the workers would be “social workers with mental health or trauma background who would get to know (the people in street culture) personally and also those who are travelling through, checking out what are they doing, are they homeless, do they have support needs. They could contact the police if need be, or the police could contact the outreach worker.

“It is a big city response, but Nelson is there now, we have enough of a homeless and transient population, and that means we need a more front line response that is not (entirely) police.

She said another role of the outreach workers would be to interface with businesses, to “help businesses figure out how to respond.”

“Drawn into street dramas”

Park said there are individual, isolated services in place now, such as the police, and such as “homeless outreach workers whose job is to find housing. But they are not taking people to the hospital, they are meeting with landlords. They are not there to be first responders, but by default they get drawn into these street dramas.”

However, even while she is proposing it, Park says that if a larger group of community stakeholders got together to problem-solve, they might find a solution better than hers, so the outreach worker proposal was her say of putting something on the table to get the discussion started.

She said street culture includes problems such as poverty, mental health, addictions, unemployment, and health, and are therefore very complex, requiring “multiple approaches to creating the desired change” and which “cannot be solved by one single organization or an isolated sector. Not everyone in street culture has a mental health problem or an addiction.”

Working in different silos

Kozak agreed that there are many groups in Nelson working in different siloes, not necessarily understanding each other’s reality and not necessarily using the same measures to quantify the problem.

So Park proposed that a large number of groups in Nelson form a downtown street outreach collaboration, and that it use a proven model called a Collective Impact Initiative, created by John Kania and Mark Kramer.

Collaborative Impact Initiative

The essence of collective impact initiatives is that they are collectively formulated, driven, and funded (see box). That means a larger range of groups and agencies in Nelson need to get together and create something new, she said.

Harrhy agreed that the collective impact approach has been well validated.

“It is bringing together like minded organizations to solve complex social problems,” he said.

Let’s get started

Kozak and Park said they want to get such an initiative started at another meeting during the summer and that they will invite many organizations including the police, many non-profit community organizations, churches, the health authority including hospital staff, the business community, the library, the city, the school district, and the Selkirk College nursing and social service worker programs.

She said the collaborative’s job could include agreeing on goals, researching best practices, finding funding, agreeing on collaborative projects, agreeing on mutually reinforcing activities and measurement, and “building trust, ensuring we stay on track, and keeping motivated around the change we all want to see.”

One of the tenets of a collaborative impact initiative is to go into the process without preconceived solutions. Park said she is prepared to drop her outreach worker idea if the group comes up with something better.

Collaboration is “easy to say”

Park said it is easy to agree with the idea of collaborating, but it’s actually hard work.

“Collaboration is easy to say,” said Park, “but at the end of the day, if people don’t show up, or they are too busy doing they own things, they won’t get their needs met.”

Police chief pleased

Nelson’s police chief Wayne Holland was at the meeting.

“I am pleased when discussions of this nature occur because it means someone is talking to us about options to help us with the emotionally disturbed,” he said. “Any dialogue is good.”

Harrhy also spoke positively about the meeting.

“Everyone left with a sense of optimism,” he said, “because we were able to acknowledge that there was a shared problem and a shared responsibility, and so we have to work collaboratively, instead of pointing the finger and saying, ‘You solve this.’”

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