OCOBIA is not calling for “defunding of the police”. We appreciate the hard work police do everyday. They are great partners in Ottawa’s BIAs to ensure our community is safe.
Regarding Ottawa’s budget planning, given the increasing challenges we are witnessing on our mainstreets, we would like to see resources made available to more directly address growing issues in our community.
We have seen many issues arising in our BIA community over the years: issues of mental health and addiction crises and increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness throughout our main streets. Also, the sheltered and vulnerable population are many times forced to leave during the daytime due to lack of programming available (during the pandemic). During this time, mental health or drug addiction relapse will occur.
OCOBIA, representing the 19 Business Improvement Areas in Greater Ottawa, wants to support a community safety and well-being program equipped with empathetic mental health and social service professionals.
Ottawa businesses are owned and staffed by caring people. People who have a great empathy for others facing these hardships and issues – they do not want to call the police if a more appropriate organization could be called to help. Generally, a call to the police will only result in the same individual back in the same situation, only days later. Businesses want to ensure that whomever they contact will provide empathetic support; leading the vulnerable to a path of wellness and security.
BIAs have implemented programs to support issues, including: public washrooms, public realm clean-up (feces, needles, etc.), dedicated staff to walk the main street to connect with homeless/unsheltered and form connections with local shelters – but it is not enough.
The pandemic has only magnified the issues we are all facing. Vulnerable communities need dedicated support by trained mental health professionals who are able to respond to crises with empathy and effective solutions.
We have not seen any dedicated resources to support mental health and addictions when responding to crises in BIAs. In meeting with the Unsheltered Task Force, we know that there has been progress to move people in encampments to shelters – a great feat during this pandemic.
We encourage the City to review other programs that support mental health crisis support by non-police services. 2 examples we have seen:
CAHOOTS: Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets. A mobile crisis intervention team, designed as an alternative to police response for non-violent crises. The City of Toronto is reviewing this. CAHOOTS provides immediate stabilization in case of urgent medical need or psychological crisis, assessment, information, referral, advocacy & (in some cases) transportation to the next step in treatment.
Compassion not Cops: The 613-819 BlackHub campaign to develop a proposal for an alternative, non-police mental health crisis response system for Ottawa. We are encouraging the City to review the plan called Alternatives for a Safer Ottawa: Non-police mental health crisis response. This was prepared by Vivic Research (link here: https://vivicresearch.ca/work)
These plans propose response teams with first responders having high degrees of empathy, and skills in de-escalation, listening and non-judgemental communication.