GUEST COLUMN — Breaking down silos with Community Mobilization

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On June 20, The Brandon Sun hosted the Community Leader Awards ceremony to recognize members of the community for their efforts in a variety of categories. I was surprised to have been nominated in the Community Builder category.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/08/2018 (1522 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

On June 20, The Brandon Sun hosted the Community Leader Awards ceremony to recognize members of the community for their efforts in a variety of categories. I was surprised to have been nominated in the Community Builder category.

I wish to express my gratitude to the person who nominated me and I wish to express my appreciation to the selection panel from The Brandon Sun for honouring me with this prestigious award. To my fellow finalist Kim Longstreet, I wish to convey my congratulations. Kim is an outstanding community builder and I am certain we will all continue to hear of and see the great things she will continue to be involved in moving forward. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the awards ceremony as my father in Newfoundland was celebrating his 99th birthday with our family and many friends.

I know that my award was based on my efforts to bring the risk-driven and collaborative Community Mobilization model to Westman. In fact, Community Mobilization Westman was the first in Manitoba to replicate the outstanding work done in Prince Albert, Sask., under the guidance of then-chief of police Dale McFee. The Prince Albert model was a first in Canada to bring together human service providers in order to address persons or families at levels of acutely elevated risk. This effort was based on research conducted from a successful risk-driven program developed in Glasgow, Scotland.

File Former Brandon Police Service chief Ian Grant, pictured in 2016, credits Community Mobilization Westman with helping resolve problems before they reach the criminal justice system.

The goal was to break down the silos in which human service providers were working, and collaborate to address the acute risk that many of our citizens face, before those compounding risk factors lead to an emergent response from police, health or a variety of other agencies.

As a result of presentations and meetings held in 2014 and early 2015, we were able to give life to the concept in Westman. From the beginning, the leaders of various human service providers in Westman were hooked on the value of the concept and agreement came fairly quickly to move in this direction. I made one very simple request of the leadership group: “Send me your best and brightest.” They did just that, and under the skilled leadership of the HUB table chairperson, Mark Sefton, and with the expert guidance of a Community Mobilization veteran and co-founder, Brent Kalinowski from Prince Albert, the HUB was soon making great strides in addressing situations of acutely elevated risk.

Since its inception in April of 2015 the HUB group has handled more than 450 situations. They have offered assistance to literally thousands of people at accurately elevated risk. They have put these people in contact with the services they so desperately needed to help mitigate the dark risk cloud that they were under. This dedicated group of people have fully embraced the work that they are doing and have come to the realization, very quickly I might add, that working in a collaborative manner is a far more efficient and effective way of dealing with risk than individual agencies’ reactive responses.

We know that this approach is working, as the people impacted have taken the time to tell us how this approach has changed their lives. We also know that in many instances a lower demand on the services of some human service providers, such as the police, has been the result of the actions of the HUB. People are now aware of where they can turn in times of crisis or elevated risk. This is not to say calls for service are declining, as there is no shortage of those. What I am saying is that due to the HUB efforts certain persons and families may have less of a reliance on human service providers than they might have before.If we had maintained the status quo, and not explored Community Mobilization, I would suggest with some confidence that calls for service would be greater than what they presently are.

Despite the successes, there are still some obstacles. Many of the HUB representatives have had these important work efforts placed on top of an already full agenda. When we began the HUB, I made the decision as the then-chief of police to devote a police officer full time to the program and in addition also supplied administrative support. Many other agencies also designated people to either work full time or near full time on HUB efforts. A number of agencies under provincial control have provided very dedicated and hard-working representatives but these folks carry this work on top of an already full file load.

Both local MLAs have attended HUB meetings as observers. A senior representative of the Department of Justice also attended a HUB meeting. During my tenure as chief I also had conversations with the minister of Justice concerning our efforts and successes. I believe the current government sees the value that Community Mobilization can offer as an approach to community safety and wellbeing.

I am aware that the current government has come out in favour of such efforts with “in kind” support in a number of Manitoba communities that chose to move forward with HUB models. If you believe in the concept of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and you see that a proactive and collaborative approach (versus reactive and fragmented) to at risk situations can and does work, then it should not be a quantum leap for our government to adjust human resources to provide a more full-time approach to such efforts.

There is certainly value for investment with this kind of work. Reduced calls to the police, reduced hospital visits, reduced school truancy, reduced demands on the efforts of any number of human services providers, and people knowing where to turn in times of risk could result in substantial savings for all of our systems. This might allow for more investments in proactive versus reactive models to address community wellbeing.

One of the greatest areas of frustration for the Community Mobilization collaborative is not being able to channel at-risk people into the types of services they need. It is no secret that there is a lack of or no public services locally available to address the growing community problem of those addicted to crystal methamphetamine or opioid drugs. These are issues faced each and every day by HUB members as they work with people at acutely elevated risk. This is a service gap that needs to be addressed sooner than later.

I recently read an announcement by the minister of Justice made on July 18. In this announcement, the government of Manitoba is “seeking innovative proposals through a provincial incentive program to invest $500,000 from the proceeds of crime fund for police agencies to reduce crime across the province.”

This is a good start, but one key element of this release needs to be addressed. After having served in law enforcement for 38 years, I know that it takes more than the efforts of the police, as good as they are, to reduce crime. We will never arrest our way out of the issues faced by society. There has to be a collaborative community effort to address the “upstream” or root causes of crime in order for us to see a reduction. We also have to find solutions to issues created within our history wherein we colonized, and then marginalized by a variety of means, a significant portion of our population.

Indigenous people deserve much better than what they have received from us. They still make up a disproportionate number in terms of involvement with the criminal justice system and with human service agencies in Manitoba. Any efforts at crime reduction needs significant involvement from the Indigenous community. Community Mobilization Westman has strong representation from the Indigenous community. This is both a source of pride and promise for a better future.

Although the funding criteria for the provincial incentive program are at present unknown, I would encourage both police agencies and the provincial government to throw their efforts and support behind programs such as Community Mobilization. I might further be bold enough to suggest that the province free up human resources to work on such efforts on a full time or close to full time basis, and that identified service gaps, i.e. addictions treatment in particular, be addressed sooner than later.

Crime is on the rise in all parts of Manitoba as per the latest releases from the Canadian Centre for Justice statistics.

Drug addiction is playing a significant role in this increase and it is impacting every facet of our lives. If we want to see things improve we will need to collaboratively address the root cause of crime and provide the necessary supports for people who have addictions issues.

Furthermore, we need to address poverty, homelessness, and mental health issues, to name a few, in addition to the continued marginalization of people in our province and country. Let’s be smart in our investments in something we know can work and has worked — Community Mobilization.

» Ian Grant is a retired chief of police of the Brandon Police Service and is currently a special adviser-public safety at Assiniboine Community College.

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