City of Prince Albert receives funding for new position dedicated to social issues

Herald file photo

The City of Prince Albert is hiring for a new position that will lead a larger project on social issues and community safety.

According to Craig Guidinger, director of planning and development services, the city put in a project proposal to Public Safety Canada. It received funding from the Building Safer Communities Fund, which is focused on guns and gang violence.

Part of the proposal was hiring a Community Safety and Well-Being Coordinator.

“The first place people go to if there’s issues is number one, City Hall, or maybe police, and we’re never sure exactly where we fit – whose responsibility is it to tackle social issues?” asked Guidinger.

“Facilitating discussions and getting the right people in the room, that’s where our role is and I think that’s where we, as a city, can be most effective.”

The Community Safety and Well-Being Coordinator will be the point of contact for the Chronic Risk Solutions Forum. The forum, started through the 2021-22 homelessness action initiative, is in partnership with the Living Skies Centre for Social Inquiry.

The successful candidate will work with community groups, such as the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre, the YWCA and the Riverbank Development Corporation, as well as public health, businesses and Indigenous leaders like the Prince Albert Grand Council.

The overall goal, explained Guidinger, is to develop new programming and prevention strategies for issues such as homelessness, housing, addictions and food insecurity.

“We want the community and we want the social service providers to tell us where the money needs to be spent, and then that’s where we’ll kind of focus our efforts,” he said.

“I assume that a shelter will be a discussion that comes up at the table and what can be done there, or maybe it’s something smaller, like we need to provide meals.”

The Prince Albert Outreach Program provides cultural services to vulnerable populations. This includes distributing food and hygiene packs, helping youth navigate through the justice system and help with re-integration after being released from custody.

Executive director Bill Chow said it’s an important issue for the city to address.

“If they don’t have this position, it’s going to continue to flounder or there’s going to be a lot of questions still being asked and no one providing the answers,” he said.

“Hopefully this position can put some of those answers together collectively, but it’s not going to be an easy position to fulfill.”

Chow said PA Outreach has its own struggles in trying to help those in need. For example, he said people sometimes take advantage of free food, potentially taking away from people most at risk of food insecurity.

“We want to provide food for them, but we also don’t want them to become totally dependent upon us,” said Chow.

“The situation is more complex than, at times, we want to think it is.”

Chow, a former police officer, said he’s noticed a spike in homelessness in recent years – and it’s hard to say why. He said it could be an effect of changes to the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program, where rent money no longer goes directly to landlords.

“I never want to say it’s not a city responsibility,” said Guidinger.

“With some research that we’ve done over the last year, we’ve determined that the city is really the catalyst or the backbone to help navigate through those issues.”

Chad Nilson with the Living Skies Centre for Social Inquiry has been conducting research for the city’s Chronic Risk Solutions Forum.

“It involves changes, it involves innovation in social policy and it changes the way in which our organizations are going to work,” he said about the position in a video posted on the city’s website.

Participants of the homelessness action initiative brought up several issues in the planning stages of the forum. This included a lack of a permanent homeless shelter, discarded needles, no networking mechanism within the social services sector and a lack of chronic risk management in both shelters and community settings.

Guidinger said the city is no longer taking applications for the Community Safety and Well-Being Coordinator and is working on conducting interviews.

He’s hoping to have someone in place by fall.