In a shared hope to reduce crime and poverty in the Edmonton area, city police and Catholic Social Services (CSS) are making partnership a priority in the coming year.
Speaking at CSS’s annual public meeting on Sept. 25, Chief Dale McFee of the Edmonton Police Service said the key to stopping crime is reducing its causes first and foremost. He sees partnerships with agencies such as CSS as pivotal to addressing those causes.
“We don’t have to solve the problems if we can stop the problems from happening,” said McFee, noting the role domestic abuse, drug use and poverty can play in criminal behaviour.
“There’s a good chance that a lot of the people we deal with are facing these same issues social services deal with. It’s the work groups like CSS does that can provide a stable environment and the potential for long lasting solutions for people.
“If you look at our homeless, at the people living in tents downtown, there are better outcomes we need to get them out of that system, rather than just evictions and moving them around.”
CSS provides services that address homelessness, addiction recovery, mental health, immigrant and refugee support, and other forms of community outreach. Over its 60-year history, it has become the largest social service agency in Alberta:
- Between April 2018 and March 2019, CSS helped 19,550 people across 12 municipalities.
- The agency currently employs 18,000 people
- CSS has more than 500 volunteers.
- Its annual report for 2019 shows revenue of $98.9 million, spending of $98.3 million on provision of services.
According to McFee, the EPS Community Safety and Well-Being Bureau is currently investigating what community partnerships have the most potential, and meetings will be arranged in the near future.
Strengthened partnerships are a key priority for CSS as well, said CEO Troy Davies.
“We agree with Chief McFee that if we bring our community organizations together to see where we are most needed and what can be done, the impact can be so much more powerful than working alone,” Davies said.
Reducing homelessness is an issue of rising importance to both agencies. Tents and homeless camps are a growing sight in Edmonton’s inner city, particularly near the Bissell Centre and Boyle Street.
City Coun. Scott McKeen, who also spoke at the CSS annual public meeting, said the city has proposed to build 900 new units of permanent supportive housing over the next six years. The project needs funding and support from the provincial and federal government, along with groups like CSS.
Homelessness is tackled in several CSS initiatives.
St. Joseph’s Home provides end-of-life care for the homeless.
The Welcome Home program helps formerly homeless people build friendships to help prevent their return to a life on the streets.
The Edmonton Archdiocese also plays a role in finding solutions, as a member of the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative, which advocates for affordable housing and ending homelessness in the city.
“Police can’t solve all of these issues, but collectively Alberta has the services and the ability to do this,” said McFee. “I have a great deal of respect for the work CSS does in our communities and I look forward to working with them.”
The newest program offering by Catholic Social Services is Morning Star, which will provide access to basic necessities like food, personal hygiene products, and shower and laundry facilities to vulnerable women in Red Deer. It will launch in October.
Morning Star is funded by Sign of Hope, a campaign for programs that are solely funded through charitable donations.
“It’s for women who oftentimes cannot access certain resources because it might put them in a place of vulnerability, or it’s where they may run into their abuser,” said Davies. “We had no service quite like this in the area, and in general we’ve been looking to grow our Sign of Hope programs in Red Deer and surrounding communities.”
As the agency looks ahead to 2020, Davies attributes their continued success to the message of the Gospel:
“We are rooted in a sacred tradition that calls us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned and to welcome the stranger,” he said. “No one stands outside our circle of compassion.”