On Monday, Grande Prairie city council unanimously backed a new $500,000 pilot project regarding homelessness, social disorder, and crime prevention in the city. The city has received many complaints regarding homeless and panhandlers taking over vacant space, treating it as their own, and harming local businesses.
Protective and Social Services Director Chris Manuel says that the city recognizes the problem and plans to use the 12-month pilot project to see if it can make a positive impact.
“It adds another piece to what is already a system of care that we’ve been building out. What we’re talking about here is a public security unit, which we can deploy on a 24/7 basis. We feel this gives us a more proactive enforcement security presence either on foot or by vehicle to areas identified as priority locations,” he says.
There will be 10 officers on duty throughout the day, 2 officers per shift, and they will be very familiar with the clients they are interacting with as well as the various complexities those people have. The officers will not use force, unless absolutely necessary.
Manuel says that the narrative around the issue suggesting that homeless people are responsible for all these complaints is not entirely accurate.
“It’s important to note that in a lot of these situations, people that aren’t homeless are causing issues as well, panhandling, and treating certain spaces as their own, presenting a challenge for the city and local businesses. We feel that having a better understanding of who they are, why they are occupying that space, and where they’re at is going to allow us to have better decision making,” he says.
Last year, the city launched the Mobile Outreach Program to try and address the same sort of concerns and for the most part, it has been successful, according to Manuel. The service is very heavily utilized, so much so that the city will expand the program going into 2022.