By FLOYD PERRAS, FOR THE WINNIPEG SUN
It never ceases to amaze me that government looks to cut programs that really work.
I’ve seen this over and over again with pilot projects that not only prove they’re effective in making a difference in the community, but also save the government money in the long run.
The latest was the cuts of program costs to the downtown Outreach Patrol program operated by the Downtown BIZ.
The program replaces more expensive police and paramedics by training outreach workers that work directly with the downtown community.
Outreach Patrol has been running since 2006 and is estimated to have saved the Winnipeg Police Service more than $6 million by June 2010.
This last year alone, the program handled more than 3,000 intoxication calls that would otherwise have been handled by the police.
But every year, the Downtown BIZ has to go cap-in-hand to ask for $100,000 from the city to keep operating.
This year, the city wanted to initially save those expenses after the Winnipeg Police Association argued the program could be better run by police cadets with more training and experience.
It’s hard to understand what they were thinking.
A budget reduction of $100,000 for the Outreach Patrol could easily end up costing Winnipeg more than $500,000 annually in city emergency services being diverted to intoxication calls.
The added demand for cadets, police officers and first responders would increase city spending astronomically; the cost of 58 new police officers hired this past January was estimated at $7-8 million.
So here’s the way I see it, as someone who relies on the program every single day.
The patrol does much more than just handle intoxication calls. The team works with inner-city agencies to provide support and recovery for many folks caught up in alcohol and drug abuse.
They provide security for the streets with a purpose of helping individuals get appropriate services to sober up and get off the streets.
This is only possible because the team knows the people they deal with; they build relationships, they build trust, and they connect people with detox services and recovery programs appropriately.
They have become specialists at handling difficult people in a respectful and dignified matter.
Not a week passes at Siloam Mission that we don’t call on the services of the Outreach Patrol.
Having worked in homeless shelters in Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto, I’ve rarely run across another service as valuable as this.
Every large Canadian city in Canada would love to have an affordable, effective service to handle intoxication calls.
Would police cadets be able to provide a similar service? Maybe.
Would they be in their respective roles long enough to build trust and relationships in the community? Not likely.
Would they be able to provide similar services with a yearly budget of $100,000? My guess is not.
City council’s executive policy committee has allotted $66,000 to keep the program running, pending approval at a special meeting this Tuesday.
I say make it $100,000 and thank them for making our community a better place.
Instead of making Downtown BIZ ask for money each year, perhaps we should be asking where else they think they can save us money?
— Floyd Perras is executive director of Siloam Mission.