University of Calgary

The Twilight Zone - Personal Safety in the Inner City

  The U of C Brain Exchange Forums 2007

The Twilight Zone - Personal Safety in the Inner City

The Brain Exchange forum on "The Twilight Zone - Personal Safety in the Inner City" reinforced very legitimate concerns regarding safety but also debunked popular myths.

One's concern for their personal safety is not just the domain of the corporate worker, commuter or the senior.  Personal safety is important to the working poor, the majority of homeless individuals and especially women who are homeless.

"You can never presume to know what homeless people think or presume.....many shelter residents are afraid to meet with corporate business people in Calgary..."

"Female shelter residents are most vulnerable... many dress like men so they will feel and be safer on the streets".

The University learned that one of the key obstacles in tackling the issues of personal safety for all those who reside, work or shop in the downtown, is education and balance.

"...we have created an impression that things are currently completely unsafe, which is wrong.  We need to understand where people are and why they are where they are - because the area becomes much less scary when you know the people."

This is not to dismiss the statistics and the reality that does exist as a result of a small percentage of homeless involved in criminal activity or who are mentally unstable.

Resolving personal safety concerns is also directly linked to responding to the challenges of homelessness and affordable housing.  With the influx of people arriving on Calgary's doorstep to fill the need for workers and a lack of affordable available housing, people have nowhere to go but the shelter and the street.  These productive individuals, along with others working or living downtown are victim to and threatened by drug dealers, addicts and those legitimately needing medical mental health intervention.  

Tackling the shortage of affordable housing requires the participation of many partners - in addition to government funding to agencies, it needs to include incentives for development industry to incorporate affordable housing into their projects.  

The University was reminded that the Urban Campus Partnership has a vital role to play in development of the East Village and in responding to the social issues in that area.  It (Urban Campus Partnership) must be part of the larger cultural cluster involving education and housing.

"It is imperative that the dialogue between the CEO council on Homelessness and the partners in the East Village be rigorous, as their issues are complementary."

"Appropriate planning can prevent (or eliminate) a lot of these issues and is important for City as well as U of C......need decision makers who know the situation on the ground"

There is an important role that the University and the Urban Campus can play in understanding the complex dynamics of personal safety and homelessness and be part of the solutions that involve education, protection and longer term strategies ......

"We need to remember that the urban campus is and would not be necessarily unique in its issues of safety - no campus is always safe.... I initially was reluctant to study downtown but with my exposure I recognized the homeless, not as a population but as individuals and most were more courteous than anyone else in the downtown..."

Recommendations for Partnership Projects:

The University - Urban Campus Partnership was encouraged to pursue a pilot project with community partners that would provide measurable practical solutions to address the issues of personal safety. Suggestions included:

  • In partnership with the City and Calgary Police Service,
    • Establish a physical policing presence in the East Village with a Beat Cop.
    • Establish a "Safe Walk" program, modeled after the University's Campus program but adapted to downtown/East Village community.
  • Work closely with the CEO Council on Homelessness as part of the East Village planning process.
  • Develop an orientation program/class for University students to increase their understanding of the issues of and foster respect for the working poor and homeless.
  • Provide students with one class in the urban campus environment to improve education, awareness and community service learning opportunities.
  • In partnership with human service agencies, create more learning/work term experiences for students to learn + work while filling gap in resource needs in these areas.

 

From a more general and longer term perspective, the University of Calgary - Urban Campus Partnership was also encouraged to:

  • Be more visible, vocal and have a constructive presence and involvement in community/municipal planning + decision making on East Village Rivers Project.
  • Take advantage of research and best practices elsewhere.
    • Scan of other urban-downtown universities' approach.
  • Promote careers in the fields of social, human and training services
  • Foster coordination of education, social service supports and focus on individuals versus buildings to break the cycle of sheltering.
  • Continue and expand the Community Service learning model (through such successful Urban Campus pilots such as the Urban Dance Project and the Salvation Army Downtown Community Initiative).