An outreach team is expected to start work in downtown Nelson in September to work with the street population.
The team would consist of two paid people who would spell each other off, accompanied by volunteers including nursing students and social work students, according to Rona Park, the project lead of the Nelson Street Culture Collaborative.
“The two paid workers would be trained in social work and have specific experience in working with vulnerable populations like the homeless, and also they would have additional expertise in mental health and addictions,” Park told the Star.
Park explained that the outreach workers would “introduce themselves to people who appear regularly on the street, who are part of the street culture, with a friendly, non-threatening sort of approach: how are you doing, who are you, what’s going on for you. Getting to know them.
“It is not Welcome Wagon. The workers will need assessment skills so they can look at someone and get a sense of what is going on for them — are they hungry, tired, having mental health problems, physical health problems. They would do a quick on-the-spot assessment, and then ask them, can I accompany you to get some food see a mental health worker or some other service. It is really trying to target them toward stabilization and support, that is the key role.”
Nelson’s police chief Paul Burkart is a member of the street culture collaborative and he sees an important role for the outreach workers. He told the Star that police officers often intervene and take preventative action to keep someone out of the hospital or jail.
“But the outreach team will take this service to another level,” he said, “as they will have more refined skills and experience dealing with the issues and will have more time to do so.”
He said the police might refer people to the outreach team, or vice-versa.
“In many of these cases,” he said, “we are hoping that instead of having to deal with these individuals through our hospitals, jails and courts, the outreach team can deal with the person themselves or bring them somewhere that the people can receive the services they need.”
The likelihood that street outreach will start this fall is one of the stated reasons for city council’s decision on July 4 to defer its planned panhandling bylaw for a year. The majority of councillors said they wanted to give the collaborative a chance to test out the outreach program.
Park says they plan to pilot the outreach team for one year, and during that time the Street Culture Collaborative will track client data from police, community services, and mental health in an attempt to see whether the program is working. She said the group is currently deciding what the data indicators will be.
This is the second project of the Street Culture Collaborative, which consists of 36 people from police, social services, faith, mental health, business, local government, education, health, and public works.
Its first project, already underway, is training in mental health first aid, which has already been delivered to city staff and is slated for more groups and the public in the fall.
Lynda Dechief, a consultant working with the collaborative, says the main model for the street outreach program will be Edmonton, which saw a number of improvements with the introduction of street workers in that city in just one year from 2010 to 2011. Vehicle thefts decreased by 41 per cent, break and enters by 25 per cent, robberies by 33 per cent, causing a disturbance by 11 per cent, and aggressive panhandling by 17 per cent.
Dechief said that while there is no proof of causation between the introduction of outreach workers in Edmonton and the lowered crime rates, the correlation was notable.
She said Nelson intends to track similar indicators.
Hiring two workers for a year and administering the pilot program will cost $100,000 says Park, and about $65,000 of that has already been raised by contributions from Nelson Community Services, the Nelson Committee on Homelessness, and a grant received by the Salvation Army specifically for this project.
The Interior Health Authority is offering an in-kind contribution of training and clinical support and supervision. Park said the group has also approached the Nelson Business Association and will be approaching area and city governments for the remainder.
Should the general public wish to contribute to this project, donations can be directed to Nelson Community Services Centre where charitable tax receipts may be issued (www.nelsoncommunityservices.ca).