Putting Housing First: A Collaborative Approach to Community Safety

This blog post is part of a series highlighting best practices in community policing by police departments nationwide as part of IACP’s Community Policing: The Next Generation project. The project showcases modern, innovative, and cost-effective solutions to crime problems and public safety issues through collaboration and partnerships between law enforcement and community stakeholders in order to adapt community policing efforts. The project is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Guest blogger: Assistant Commissioner Kevin Brosseau, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Manitoba, Canada

Thompson, Manitoba, is a relatively small city of about 13,000 people located in Northern Canada, which historically has been plagued with disproportionately high-crime rates, many involving violence. Additionally, the prevalence of intoxicated persons in the downtown area has been a long-term problem within the city. For years, social disorder was tolerated with little interagency effort committed to resolving the community issue.

With the proliferation of organized crime and an increase of violent occurrences within the downtown area, the public became significantly concerned and the safety of the downtown area became a primary policing priority. It was only at that point that stakeholders, including the police, recognized the need for community engagement to address the root causes of the issue.

Project Northern Doorway officially evolved as a result of broad-based community consultations, aimed at tackling the substance abuse fueling the crime epidemic in the downtown area. Over several months of discussions in public forums, town hall meetings, and consultations with a wide variety of stakeholders, it was agreed that the goal ought to be to try and help homeless people get off the streets in order for them to begin to seek assistance in overcoming their addictions. This approach acknowledges that in order to successfully address addictions and substance abuse among homeless individuals, the immediate and primary focus must be on helping individuals quickly access and sustain permanent housing.

To that end, in April 2014, the Steering Committee of Project Northern Doorway opened a transitional housing unit to accommodate 16 individuals who were previously clients of the local homeless shelter. The unit provides a stable home environment where clients participate in counseling and treatment for ongoing mental health and substance abuse addictions. Notably, the public’s voice continues to carry the day through membership of the project’s steering committee, keeping the initiative on track and true to its stated goals.

So what impact did this have? With diverse community participation and support, crime has dramatically decreased in Thompson by as much as 50% in some categories. But beyond statistics, the Canadian Mental Health Association has reported that candidates have started school, gained employment, stabilized their lives, and are managing their addictions. It has also resulted in a shift in the manner in which the community sees and treats homelessness as well as its police service. In fact, the police are considered to be a partner and an important bridge builder in the city, furthering our priority of being a part of the community rather than apart from the community.

Project Northern Doorway is an excellent example of the core principles of community policing and inclusive problem solving and has led to the acceptance that many community issues require the collaboration of all agencies, including but not limited to the police, for any success to be achieved.


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