Hamilton Police Service (HPS) says it is using some of the $8,268,267 it is receiving from the province to create a new team to help people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and addiction. It’ll also expand existing efforts for the same causes.
The funding was pledged Tuesday by the province and comes from Ontario’s $267-million Community Safety and Policing Grant program, which was announced late last year. The funds will be paid out over three years.
“We have heard loud and clear that police are not the experts on many of the social issues facing our community,” HPS Chief Frank Bergen said in a media release on Tuesday afternoon. “By seeking out partnerships, we’re bringing in specialists to help us provide in the moment support to some of our most marginalized community members.”
Of that $8 million, Hamilton police will get roughly $1.4 million over three years — the maximum amount it’s allowed for a specific program — to create a Rapid Intervention Support Team.
The rest of the money, $6.7 million, will go toward continuing to pay the 13 officers on the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST), Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team and Social Navigator Program. It will also allow for three more Social Navigator Program officers, and two new officers and two civilian support roles who will work with at-risk youth.
How the Rapid Intervention team will work
Police say the new team, which has been in development since last year, will provide daily one-on-one care that considers a host of issues.
For example, if someone is experiencing homelessness, addiction issues and mental health issues, the team can refer them to supports for each of those challenges, rather than only addressing one issue, HPS said.
The team will be out to support “clients that everyone is having difficulty placing,” Insp. Frank Miscione told CBC Hamilton.
The team includes numerous community partners, such as:
- Hamilton paramedics
- Wesley Urban Ministries
- St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton
- Canadian Mental Health Association Hamilton
- Hamilton Regional Indian Centre
- YMCA of Hamilton Burlington Brantford
- Interval House Hamilton
Miscione said he hopes the team of roughly nine people will launch in late spring. The team will consist of various roles, including:
- A program coordinator
- A police officer
- A paramedic
- An Indigenous community liaison worker
- A women’s shelter worker
- Specialists in housing, addiction, mental health, and youth
CBC Hamilton contacted each organization involved for comment.
Lily Lumsden, the local YMCA’s senior regional manager of employment and immigrant services, said some of the money is for pre-existing positions who will now be part of the team.
Miscione said at least some members of the team will meet daily to discuss new referrals and clients and to delegate tasks to the organization best suited to help. Who meets each day will depend on the client’s needs, he said. Police will be involved in those meetings, HPS said.
Police say the team will also proactively engage “high-priority populations” through regular visits to drop in centres and shelters.
Miscione added he expects the initiative will provide support to up to 200 people.
Local police have faced criticism from some community groups who say the service, along with city bylaw officers, have done a poor job of treating people in encampments with dignity. Like other police services, they have also faced calls to have some of its budget reallocated toward community services.
Miscione said some of the metrics being used to measure the team’s success include the number of client referrals to community services, such as human trafficking supports, medical care and court-related appointments.
He also said he thinks the group falls in line with calls to have community groups respond to some of these issues, instead of police officers.
“That’s what this grant is about, it’s not about police, it’s about bringing other collaborative partners to the table,” Miscione said.
When asked about how the team could help people with housing and shelter despite city shelters regularly being full, Miscione said while that challenge may continue, the front-line team will try to prioritize care for each person.
Partner organizations ‘excited’ about the team
Lumsden said she’s feeling good about the program.
She said the YMCA will be focused on youth who will use the team’s services.
“Our perspective is … how do we work together to really help the youth get what they need and stay safe?” she said.
“Youth don’t always have a great interaction with police and so how can we be there to help support both the youth and the police in understanding some of the nuances the issues … [youth] may present as erratic and aggressive, but there might be a story behind that and what’s the why behind that?”
The YMCA will host five to 10 sessions for youth to learn about human trafficking, drugs, guns, gangs and more.
The youth navigator will also be on the streets and is expected to see 50 youth per month, Lumsden said.
Since each organization has a different focus, each have varying metrics of success, she said. For the YMCA, it’ll be the number of referrals to services and satisfaction surveys.
She said the one barrier they could face is youth not trusting police being involved.
Hamilton Regional Indian Centre executive director Audrey Davis said the organization is “excited” about the team.
“Our hope is that Indigenous people with social challenges, ie, homeless, mental health concerns and addictions who have encounters with the HPS are better served and connected to the services within the Indigenous community,” she wrote to CBC in an email.