Outreach team begins work downtown

Emma Parker (left), Alana Bray, Ryan Luyk and Kelly Kokus are part of the Brantford Downtown Outreach Team. Submitted

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An outreach team hit the streets of downtown Monday, offering help to the homeless and those struggling with drug addiction and mental health issues.

The Brantford Downtown Outreach Team, made up of an outreach co-ordinator, nurse practitioner, concurrent disorders clinician, and peer support worker, will connect people with support services, said Mayor Kevin Davis.

The $280,000 one-year pilot program is being paid for with the city’s portion of casino revenue.

“This is a very important investment,” said Davis.

“Ensuring that those most vulnerable people in our community get the help they need and that the downtown remains a safe and welcoming place for everyone, including residents, students, tourists and business patrons, are key priorities of council.”

In a presentation to city councillors last December, Brantford police Chief Geoff Nelson said police are aware of community concerns about the downtown and surrounding area. They include discarded needles, encampments, homelessness, vagrancy and unusual behaviours often related to mental health and addiction.

Nelson said that, while there has been no increase in reported crime in the core, there have been more social disorder calls to police to report people who are intoxicated, unwanted and suspicious and those who are injured, sick or suffering from mental health issues.

They are often found in front of downtown businesses, in doorways, vestibules, stairwells, alleys and public washrooms.

Nelson said there is a public perception of the downtown being unsafe.

“Everyone has the potential to be healthy if we can find them, support them, and get them connected with the help they need,” said Kim Baker, director of clinical services at St. Leonard’s Community Services.

Originally proposed as a three-year project, the city decided to pilot it for a year and give staff time to lobby for provincial funding to keep it running.

The pilot is scheduled to run until next June and is being evaluated by Laurier’s Centre for Research on Security Practices. It’s hoped the data collected in the first year will support ongoing funding applications, said Davis.

“A program like this needs to operate for several years before you can see the full impact,” he said. “I look forward to seeing the early results and being a champion for its longevity.”

Earlier this year, Davis became chair of the Brantford-Brant community drugs strategy advocacy committee. Creating a mobile outreach service was one of the key recommendations of the strategy.

Staff at downtown businesses and organizations have been provided with marketing materials about local resources, community crisis response services and training on how to interact with people who may be struggling with mental health and addiction issues.

“We want to be part of the solution,” said Annette Wawzonek, executive director of the Downtown Brantford Business Improvement Area. “This program is certainly welcome by the downtown business community and we want to do everything we can to support the Brantford Downtown Outreach Team’s efforts.”

The team is part of a larger plan for the downtown that includes investment in infrastructure, increased bylaw enforcement, more city programming, and investigation into the possibility of installing closed circuit cameras in the core.