Town drops outreach position
Outreach an 'absolute' need - task force members
An advocacy person to work with people at risk of crime is a sore need in St. Paul, according to a couple of members of the former Safer Communities Task Force, who expressed dissatisfaction that the Town of St. Paul chose not to reapply for potentially $200,000 in funding for such a position.
Judy Bogdan, who sat on the task force for seven years, said it was vital to have a person work with those who might suffer from mental health problems, addictions, or other problems that might make them more at-risk to engage in harmful, destructive or criminal behavior.
“Any kind of outreach program in St. Paul is an absolutely necessity,” she said.
After the Safer Communities Task Force identified such a need, the Town of St. Paul FCSS department applied for and received $100,000 funding from Alberta Justice to fill this role for a year. Dolu Ashani was hired to man the Barrier-Free Outreach Advocacy office under the supervision of FCSS. There was potential for the funding to be renewed for an additional two years.
However, when Ashani left the position just before the one year contract expired, the Town of St. Paul council, under the recommendation of FCSS, decided not to rehire someone and reapply for funding, partly because the Safer Communities Task Force had since disbanded.
Diana Tyler-Moon, who also was briefly a member of the task force before it disbanded, took issue with the decision, saying, “Because the task force disbanded, it has no bearing on the position of the outreach advocate,” she said. If there was an opportunity for additional funding, it made no sense to forgo that money, she said.
Ashani was also critical of the decision, saying, “There were a number of legacies that I left for them, that if they would continue, it would be better for the community.”
Town of St. Paul Coun. Pat Gratton, who is chair of the FCSS board, said to receive the additional funding, the supervising department of FCSS would have to have made a submission to show what the program had done. “It doesn’t mean we would have qualified for it,” he said. Gratton said that Ashani tried to contact and connect different people, but he added, “The results were not as prominent. He did some work but we didn’t find that much change with the program.
“I think Dolu did whatever he had to do, but it ran out of steam.”
Moon questioned the work that was done in the role, with some of Ashani’s proposed projects including essay writing competitions, debates, quizzes, and Tour de Lakeland, an event that saw people bike from St. Paul to Saddle Lake. She felt this work didn’t address the people that were at-risk of committing crime. “It was supposed to be on the ground, on the trenches,” she said. Moon expressed a desire to see funds used properly, by hiring people with the “expertise” to capitalize and make good use of any grant money the town receives.
While the program was effective, the person in the role failed to “actively engage” people at risk in community projects, said Bogdan. Bogdan said in her work with the so-called “backstreet boys” of St. Paul - people who were homeless or unemployed and who would wander the streets - she found the men “more than willing” to get involved with community projects and she expected they would have been happy to take part in activities such as street cleaning, painting or window washing.
“They were absolutely instrumental with the community gardens,” she said. When she worked with Health Alberta Communities as a project coordinator, she got the men to plant and harvest these gardens and that they took total ownership of the project. “In fact, they would take turns sleeping out there at night so no one would raid the gardens,” Bogdan recalled, saying they felt a need for “a sense of belonging, of being valued.” Those that helped to harvest the vegetables took some home, and were grateful simply to receive a hot meal in return for their work, she said.
Ashani said he is working on an evaluation of the project; he estimates he served about 65 people over a long term that he deemed “at risk,” with needs surrounding housing, employment, food, health, addictions, and justice. Several other people stopped by on an irregular basis for help, he noted, adding several people in the community are still “aching, in pain,” and continue to need support. Among the projects he initiated, beside Tour de Lakeland, was a meeting between the leaders of Saddle Lake and Goodfish Lake reserves and the Town and County of St. Paul, which he’d like to see continued quarterly. He also looked at coordinating services between neighbouring reserves and towns. “Those are things that need to be sustained,” he said, adding he believed a number of people had “benefited” through the service.
Bogdan expressed a wish to see a group take on the former role of the Safer Communities Task Force, saying, “I think it would be nice to see a group of individuals that believe in people first that have a vision of what a united and safe community is about to come together and work together.”
Moon added that St. Paul’s Champions for Change were taking on some of that responsibility, for instance, with an anti-graffiti project. “With that group of people, there’s some hope we can feel safer in our communities,” she said, adding, “People need to step forward. We can’t sweep it under rug - we have problems here.” Vandalism, petty crimes, thefts are just a few of the problems St. Paul experiences, but Moon said that with the “right leadership,” the right people, energy and what she called “the wherewithal to put some action into place,” there can be effective ways to combat crime.
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