June 15th, 2024

MHPS addressing encampments with community-led program

By BRENDAN MILLER on April 25, 2024.

This month the local police service launched its Pro-Active Engagement Community Enhancement Team to address concerns with temporary encampments in Medicine Hat.--NEWS FILE PHOTO

bmiller@medicinehatnews.com

Police are addressing homelessness concerns in the city’s core and other neighbourhoods by working with community parents to provide an alternative response to temporary outdoor encampments.

Two weeks ago the Medicine Hat Police Service sent out its first Pro-Active Engagement and Community Enhancement team, or PEACE, to identify encampments and provide basic human needs and shelter for individuals in need.

The PEACE team consists of officers trained to deal with addictions and mental health issues as well support from AHS, Community Housing, Miywasin Friendship Centre, local firefighters and the parks and recreation department.

“All the stakeholders were amazing and they agreed to participate,” said Insp. Brent Secondiak. “They’ve been going out two days a week and there’s about a dozen to 15 encampments they found so far. Some of them have been empty, but there’s been people inside of some.”

Last year police and bylaw responded to more than 130 calls for service at encampments throughout the city, and firefighters attended more than 60 calls where fire or accelerants were present.

“And that is really concerning for us,” says Secondiak. “It’s a danger not only to surrounding properties, grasslands and trees, but to themselves, and the last thing we want is somebody to die because they have a propane heater and something tragic happens.”

The PEACE team is hoping to address safety concerns presented to the community due to potential fire and hazardous conditions of the encampments, while at the same time providing a more comprehensive approach to address the root cause of homelessness by offering shelter and providing basic needs.

However, Insp. Secondiak says if needed the PEACE team is ready to force those individuals to vacate the area if needed.

“So they will enforce it if they have to,” says Secondiak. “But our goal is to provide basic human needs, offer them shelter, and then if they refuse there is a notice that can be given for them to vacate, but that’s not the primary goal, it’s to ensure the community is safe and sound.”

He says the PEACE team is one part of a strategic plan MHPS is developing to alleviate some of the fears of downtown and to make it a vibrant place for everyone to feel safe.

“We just want to encourage people to go downtown, and our goal is to reduce that fear of crime, and we’re hopeful that this plan does,” adds Secondiak. “If there’s something we need to tweak for next year, we’ll be able to do that.”

The PEACE team is expected to commence operations throughout the summer until September. At that time a review on the number of calls and effectiveness of the program will occur.

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