Strategic Purpose and a Bias for Action
A broadly based, strategically focused alliance of 29 community groups today reported on its progress since its formation in the past year as well as identifying its areas of focus, at present, and going forward in the upcoming year.
Since the summer of 2017, the Safe Community Action Alliance (SCAA) has evolved from a series of individual meetings to a consortium of 29 Saskatoon groups that are focused on issues that impact community safety and wellbeing.
From the outset, all of the SCAA participants agreed a dual focus was essential. On one hand, dealing with short- term, immediate issues that are impacting the community’s safety and wellbeing is paramount to addressing rapidly emerging trends. Concurrently, however, it was recognized that there are longer term, systemic matters that must be tackled or the community will see a continuation of the cycles that hamper its wellbeing.
During its quarterly meetings over the past year, SCAA participants identified two “top of the list” priorities – dealing with the crystal meth issue that has reached epidemic proportions and dealing with housing options as an issue that is at the core of many of the community’s pressures. Specific actions and strategies have been developed for each and the SCAA, alongside other community partners, is taking actions to deal with the immediate term impact as well as longer term strategies to rein in the trend lines that threaten to continually disrupt community wellbeing.
The effectiveness of the Safe Community Action Alliance process has been enhanced by the formation of issue- specific sub-groups that consist of the leaders of front line service agencies that deal with these issues, day in and day out. The work undertaken by the sub-groups ensures the actions to be taken by SCAA are strategically sound and can make a definitive difference.
As examples of immediate term actions being undertaken taken, the crystal meth strategy includes completing a mapping exercise that will identify the pathway for crystal meth interventions. That doesn’t exist now and will assist helping agencies to guide individuals to the required resources on a timely basis. Concurrently, the sub- group is identifying gaps in the service delivery system. And additionally, some specific training opportunities are being arranged that will address the safety of staff of many of the organizations, as they deal with people who are impacted by crystal meth use. The housing options sub-group is assessing the need for expansion of managed alcohol programs and looking at development of a rent education program that will enhance renters’ knowledge and enable them to be responsible tenants.
The participant groups in the Safe Community Action Alliance are: AIDS Saskatoon, Brief & Social Detox Unit, Broadway Business Improvement District, City of Saskatoon, Community Support Officer Program, CUMFI, Downtown Business Improvement District, Friendship Inn, HUB, John Howard Society, Riversdale Business Improvement District, Salvation Army, Saskatchewan Health Authority, Saskatoon City Council, Saskatoon Community Clinic, Saskatoon Crisis Intervention, Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre, Saskatoon Fire Department, Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership, Saskatoon Police Commission, Saskatoon Police Service, Saskatoon Public School Division, Saskatoon Tribal Council, Saskatoon United Way, Str8Up, 33rd Street Business Improvement District, The Lighthouse, University of Saskatchewan and YWCA.
What Community Leaders Are Saying About the Safe Community Action Alliance:
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark: “The SCAA has demonstrated an unprecedented level of collaboration and coordination to address crime and community safety in Saskatoon. Creating a comprehensive approach to these issues is a response to the needs of our community and our citizens, and it is something that the member organizations have committed to with enthusiasm. The questions that these organizations are collectively answering are some of the most complex issues that our community is facing. This speaks to the need to bring together such a broad and diverse group of people to address them.”
Tribal Chief Mark Arcand of the Saskatoon Tribal Council: “In our first discussions about what is now the Safe Community Action Alliance, we asked some key questions. Can we increase the feeling of safety in the community for both the vulnerable as well as for the remainder of the city’s population? Can our community connect and integrate our efforts to achieve better results? It was clear, to STC as one of the founders, that we need a broadly based team approach. Saskatoon Tribal Council is committed to seeing SCAA be part of that solution.”
Councillor Hilary Gough: “When City Council assigned portfolio responsibilities to each Councillor, with community safety and wellbeing falling to me, my first question about our community’s response to the pressures we are seeing was ‘Can we do better?’ The outstanding response we have seen as all these groups coalesced around a common cause says we certainly can do better. And we will do that through teams like SCAA.”
Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority: “The Safe Community Action Alliance is a great platform for the Saskatchewan Health Authority to work with key community leaders in Saskatoon to identify emerging health issues and address them with the active assistance of SCAA partners. We are excited about the momentum the SCAA is creating for improving the lives of people in Saskatoon and about sharing the knowledge we gain through this process with others across Saskatchewan.”
Shirley Isbister of the Central Urban Metis Federation Inc.: “In our work with CUMFI, we see, day in and day out, the toll that crystal meth and a shortage of housing options are taking on our community. At CUMFI, our resources are stretched to the limit. And so we need the active support of the Safe Community Action Alliance for what we are doing, and we also need SCAA to keep working on additional strategies to address these chronic and rapidly escalating issues.”
Laurie O’Connor of the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre: “When this concept was first discussed, and we talked about the approach and the targets, I said immediately, ‘we are in’. The ability to identify additional strategies and actions, as a complement to what each of our groups continue to do within their own sphere, gives us hope of making gains on some of our community’s most challenging problems. The ability to share information, to ensure we aren’t overlapping with other groups, and to look at the broader picture, have been really important for each of us as fully committed SCAA participants.”
Darlene Brander, Chair of the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners: “Dealing with social issues is not the norm for either Police Commissions or Police Services in other cities in Canada. But our Police Commission has been involved in strategies to deal with community safety for many years. We are convinced it’s the right approach. And the emergence of the Safe Community Action Alliance provides an important avenue through which to address crime issues right back at their social roots.”
Police Chief Troy Cooper: “The Saskatoon Police Service is assisted in its work by groups such as the Safe Community Action Alliance. Effective partnerships are a cornerstone of effective policing these days. And SCAA delivers a huge partnership opportunity to our Service. The public sees police involvement in areas such as dealing with the fallout of crystal meth use and the events that are often a direct result of a lack of adequate housing availability. What they don’t see, quite often, are the upstream causes. And that is precisely what SCAA intends to tackle.”
Backgrounder: SAFE COMMUNITY ACTION ALLIANCE
In 2017, one of Saskatoon City Council’s ten Strategic Directions involved Community Safety and Wellbeing. Concurrently, the Saskatoon Police Commission had long supported an integrated focus on expansion of stabilization services through the Action Accord. Together, they asked:
How does our community respond to the needs of all citizens to have a sense of safety and connectedness?
Can we increase the feeling of safety in the community for both the most vulnerable as well as for the remainder of the city’s population?
Can our community connect and integrate our efforts and achieve better results?
Can we build on the work of several previous groups to improve collaboration and action toward a vision of a safe and vibrant community for all citizens?
In other words, “Can We Do Better?”
An integrated approach has been attempted, to various degrees, in the past. From each of these prior attempts, most of which included five to eight participant groups, the SCAA approach has attempted to incorporate the most effective elements, as follows:
Safe Streets Commission – It focused its efforts on identifying and housing the couple dozen most challenging city residents who were commonly on the streets.
Action Accord – It focused on activities designed to increase the inventory of stabilization facilities and services for people intoxicated in public but who do not present a danger to others.
Street Activity Steering Committee – It collects and reports highly relevant data on calls for service from the Community Support Officers’ interaction with people on the streets in the three central business districts.
City Centre Street Issues Group – It was formed to better facilitate a focused and integrated approach by the groups dealing with street activity in the city centre area.
All of the above are now part of the Safe Community Action Alliance process.
Discussions with groups regarding the formation of a cohesive, co-ordinated and broad approach to dealing with safety on the streets began in the summer of 2017. One-on-one meetings were held with 34 individuals from 24 Saskatoon agencies addressing core questions revolving around “Can we do better as a community?” The response was exceptionally positive with significant enthusiasm displayed for adopting a more effective model of agency interaction that could create a more systematic approach to community safety issues.
The following principles were identified by participants as vital to SCAA’s success:
Reconciliation needs to be a common thread in all aspects of the process.
The process must address immediate issues as well as long term / systemic issues.
Process efficiency is key - meaning fewer meetings and more results.
The areas of focus and the resulting actions must be evidence based.
Effective advocacy on priorities identified by SCAA is vital.
Information sharing is an underpinning of the process.
In summary, SCAA is to be integrated, based on information sharing, with an action agenda based on the factual information and data, and it must be strategic.
The 29 participating groups include:
AIDS Saskatoon, Brief Detoxification Unit, Broadway Business Improvement District, City of Saskatoon, Community Support Officer Program, CUMFI, Downtown Business Improvement District, Friendship Inn, HUB, John Howard Society, Riversdale Business Improvement District, Salvation Army, Saskatchewan Health Authority, Saskatoon City Council, Saskatoon Community Clinic, Saskatoon Crisis Intervention, Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre, Saskatoon Fire Department, Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership, Saskatoon Police Commission, Saskatoon Police Service, Saskatoon Public School Division, Saskatoon Tribal Council, Saskatoon United Way, Str8Up, 33rdStreet Business Improvement District, The Lighthouse, University of Saskatchewan and YWCA.
The groups met in September 2017 as a confirmation of commitment to the process and for evaluation of next steps. More than 40 representatives attended. That was followed by a second meeting in December 2017 where the SCAA mandate and operating method were further defined. Next, SCAA held its first quarterly meeting in January 2018 where the top priorities were identified and confirmed. At its April 2018 meeting, SCAA strategized around the highest priority topics identified by the group - suitable housing options and the crystal meth issue. In both cases, a sub-group for each met twice prior to the April 2018 meeting to bring forward refinements about the scope of each issue to be addressed by SCAA, as well as recommended steps and strategies. In addition, a statistical package, designed to provide factual evidence of the status and activity for each issue, is provided for each quarterly meeting.
The Strategy Process:
From the outset, there has been an outstanding level of support for this initiative from the groups involved. After a rigorous interview process plus three development meetings, every single agency that was involved at the outset has remained an SCAA member. Most of the participants are, in fact, also involved in one of the sub-groups.
It is the clear understanding of the groups in SCAA that the challenges identified will typically have a need for both short term actions as well as longer term strategies. Again, there has been strong commitment by group members to work on either the shorter term elements or the longer term plan.
Some of the recommended strategies can be enacted directly by SCAA members. Some recommendations and actions, however, require the active assistance of senior leaders in the community. That support has been put into place as numerous senior leaders, known as the Partnership Group, have agreed to lend their support to the actions and strategies identified by SCAA.
The path forward for SCAA can be summarized as follows:
To clearly define top priority issues (which it has already done, although it will shift over time),
To set out specific recommended actions and strategies,
To carry out the actions in areas where SCAA has the capacity to do so, and then
To engage the assistance of the Partnership Group which is comprised of influential community leaders who
can assist in causing recommended strategies to be enacted.
The Safe Community Action Alliance is emerging as the broadest, most comprehensive and most integrated approach to community wellbeing that has ever been attempted in Saskatoon.
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