My response to Minister Shandro’s letter on the Police Act.
Edmonton does deserve better. And if we work together, we can get there.
I want to acknowledge the letter that Minister Shandro sent to my office earlier today, and the plan that he asked me to prepare in the next two weeks.
I share the same concerns about safety in our Downtown, Chinatown, and on the LRT that he highlighted in his letter. The social issues that are causing these safety issues are nothing new.
Ever since I got elected, I have been raising these issues with the provincial government and have been asking them to step up to help to deal with them. So far, they have neglected those asks. But we have been taking action on our own to improve safety and wellbeing in Edmonton.
I want to highlight some of the specific things that we are doing:
In February we approved a Transit Safety Strategy led by the city manager, Chief McFee and Bent Arrow Healing Society, which included providing $3.9 million, spread out over three years to add more transit security officers and social workers to the Community Outreach Transit Team (COTT).
This work sees teams of transit peace officers and outreach workers connecting people on the transit system to services they may need, like housing or mental health services. Vulnerable folks have complex needs, and achieving integrated community safety means meeting those needs respectfully.
Starting May 22, 2022, the Transit Community Action Teams will have a more consistent presence throughout the transit networks. These teams will reduce and prevent crime and disorder in our transit system.
We have also approved a major allocation of $8.4 million to 10 projects through our Community Safety and Wellbeing Strategy along with approving our anti-racism plan.
I also made a motion last week to approve $5 million to improve safety in Downtown, Chinatown, and at transit stations. This money will help to hire social workers or mental health specialists to work with Edmonton Police Service’s (EPS) to respond to safety issues in downtown, Chinatown and on the LRT.
We are providing $1.8 million to fund day services at the Bissell Centre Community Space. This investment will fill a void left by the lack of investment from the provincial government.
We have also increased investment in our Encampment Response Team and provided additional resources to respond to problem properties.
And Just two days ago, City Council approved $300,000 for the purpose of addressing the immediate and unique needs of Chinatown.
We have already had two meetings with community leaders in Chinatown to collaborate on immediate, medium term and long term actions to ensure safety and wellbeing in the community, with another one to be scheduled for June.
I care deeply about downtown, Chinatown, and our public transit because every resident deserves to feel safe and protected.
Council is investing in many issues that are the responsibility of the province, and frankly, they’re falling short.
While the overall crime rate across the city is down by 17%, some areas in the city are not seeing this decrease including downtown, Chinatown and on the LRT.
The pandemic has brought to light so many social issues that are not being properly addressed or adequately funded.
The number of houseless Edmontonians has more than doubled in the past two years. This is a devastating statistic for which the lack of action from the provincial government is directly responsible.
And we know that the reason we are seeing so much disorder downtown, in Chinatown and on the LRT is due to a lack of investment from the provincial government.
I have to say that I am glad that the Minister has finally noticed this incredibly important issue that has been my top priority since being elected.
I have desperately been trying to get the province’s attention on this issue for months now.
So I ask you, Minister Shandro, will you work with us to provide funding for our houseless population, for mental health supports and for those suffering from the drug poisoning crisis to make our communities safe?
We will continue to ask for funding that would address the root causes of social disorder and without a firm commitment from the provincial government, the City is left to take on responsibilities that belong to the province including funding housing, pushing the province to adopt minimum standards for shelters, and dealing with the end result of chronic underfunding of mental health and the opioid crisis.
I have a meeting booked with Minister Shandro next week and I plan to outline everything that City Council is doing to improve safety in every corner of the city.