City of Calgary wraps up pilot for Joint Encampment Team
With winter setting in, addressing illegal encampments becomes even more urgent. Through the Joint Encampment Team (JET), The City balances the health and safety of vulnerable citizens, while also addressing bylaw enforcement and citizen concerns about the impact encampments have on of community safety. With the JET pilot wrapping up, and the program becoming long-term, The City has helped 46 vulnerable citizens connect to permanent housing since April and responded to over 1,500 encampment reports so far this year.
JET was formed to create a corporate wide response that addresses encampments within 30 days. This response time allows The City to work with occupants to connect them to financial, housing and other supports and services to address their root causes of homelessness. A consistent approach to encampments also allows for the safe removal of the encampments.
At the centre of JET is the Partner Agency Liaison (PAL) team, a two-member team of community peace officers who are responsible for encampment occupant outreach. PAL has been working with local social services agencies like the Alpha House Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) team to assist encampment occupants for over 7 years. Through this outreach approach, JET and PAL are also aligned to Council’s direction on Community Action on Mental Health and Addiction as it helps create safer conditions for homeless people and address citizen concerns about crime and social disorder.
The PAL team consists of Community Peace Officers Jody St. Pierre and Melanie Thomas. “Our approach has been to keep vulnerable people in place for the short term, for those interested in seeking help, so we can continue to work with them to find solutions,” says St. Pierre. “It also gives them time to collect their most important belongings. For someone who has so little, taking away the few belonging they have can be devastating and demoralizing.”
While JET supports the work of the PAL team, it has also been very effective for coordinating City resources to make sure the right business area is notified about the need for a cleanup and engaging a qualified contractor when necessary to clean up encampments in a safe and timely manner.
Jennifer Lawlor, City business strategist and project lead, says one of the reasons encampments are not permitted on City-owned land is due to the impact they can have on people and the environment.
Lawlor says, “Encampments can have a negative impact for park users by creating bio hazards, as well as problems with litter and debris. People experiencing homelessness often have health issues, and there can be items that can pose health and safety risks. It’s important to realize that these encampments are often not safe for the occupants themselves.”
Due to these and other issues, Lawlor says citizens should not attempt to enter the encampment or confront occupants and urges citizens to call 311 to report illegal encampments so they can be dealt with in a safe and responsible manner. They should call 9-1-1 if there is an imminent risk to health or safety.
“Many citizens hesitate to report encampments as they are afraid the occupant will get arrested,” says Lawlor. “The City doesn’t deal with these vulnerable citizens as criminals. Our focus is on ensuring the safety of all our citizens and helping occupants to connect to services.”
For more information on The City’s process for addressing encampments, visit calgary.ca/encampments.