Safety partnership in downtown Winnipeg helps divert 911 calls, connects people to social services


A community partnership aiming to help make downtown Winnipeg safer is helping to divert some calls to emergency services and provide social supports for people who need them.

In the past year, Winnipeg's Downtown Community Safety Partnership conducted over 2,000 well-being checks, helped with medical assistance more than 10 times and provided more than 450 housing referrals.

The 50 team members involved in the partnership are uniquely suited to this work, says Mitch Bourbonniere, the community outreach liaison.

"We are led by women, we are led by Indigenous folks and we are led by people of colour. We reflect the people we are supporting. And lots of our people actually have lived experience and understand," he said at a provincial government press conference on Tuesday.

"They know how they have found their healing and they're going to extend that to our people, our vulnerable folks."

In the last year, the safety partnership mobilized three teams — including the Mobile Assist and Connect team, whose members perform social needs assessments to help support the safety and wellness of people in the downtown area 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

They can also administer first aid in non-emergency events.

That team works alongside CONNECT, which does exactly what the name suggests — connects people from the downtown community to front-line assistance.

Together they work with the Community Outreach Advocacy Resource (COAR) Team, which connects with partner agencies in housing, addictions treatment, education, mental health support and others that aim to provide longer-term assistance.

"The Downtown Community Safety Partnership interacts with and provides support to downtown Winnipeg's vulnerable population in a way that police cannot," said Justice Minister Cameron Friesen on Tuesday.

"Our government is proud to support the DCSP, which in just one year has mobilized three outreach teams that provide 24-7 culturally appropriate support in a community-centred way."

The safety partnership is working with United Way's 211 Manitoba, where people can call 211 with any concerns regarding non-urgent safety and wellness needs of those in the downtown area.

Operators from 211 then trigger the involvement of the DCSP response team, while also helping the team to help ensure Winnipeggers are connected in a timely way with appropriate resources and supports if they need them.

Future funding 

Last year, the province spent $5 million to help establish the partnership as a permanent non-profit organization.

The justice minister wouldn't say whether the provincial government will spend more to ensure the long-term survival of the safety partnership.

"I remain committed to the Downtown Community Safety Partnership," he said, but shifted the onus to the federal government to kick in.

The Manitoba NDP Justice Critic Nahanni Fontaine said the province needs to step up and commit to sustainable funding for the safety partnership and other programs like it that are "integral" to helping vulnerable people thrive.

"It's such a shame today to see the PC Minister of Justice refuse to answer basic questions about future funding for this program," she said in a release.

"Without long-term provincial funding, community organizations are forced to direct staff and resources to chasing down funding for the next year – that's time and energy that could have been spent building relationships, advancing reconciliation and working with communities."