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'Futile': Saskatoon city council, police grapple with perceptions of crime in Fairhaven

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City councillors heard crime concerns from residents Wednesday after receiving a joint report by Saskatoon police the fire department about community changes following the opening of a major emergency shelter.

"It's quite alarming to me when I come up here and I have to validate what we've always been saying inside of our emergency wellness center in Fairhaven. It's about helping people," Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand said, addressing councillors.

Crime statistics from December 2021 and January 2024 were released for the Fairhaven and Confederation Suburban Area neighbourhoods following a request from Coun. Darren Hill in February to help the city address concerns from residents.

The Saskatoon Tribal Council's emergency wellness centre came to the area in December 2022, when it moved from 1st Avenue downtown.

While Arcand found the report validating, residents in the area had other opinions.

"If you want a complete picture of what is happening in Fairhaven, you need to understand it's not that crime is normalizing or decreasing — it's because crimes are no longer being reported because it's futile to do so," said Robert Pearce, a Fairhaven resident and vocal critic of the wellness centre.

Pearce, who intends to run in the upcoming municipal election, said two years ago he would have called police for things he's used to seeing on a nearly daily basis. He doesn't report many of the things he sees because it's time consuming and police likely won't do anything to address his concerns.

Arcand said he depends on partnerships with the city and police to help what's happening outside the building, as the report showed crime is increasing in dozens of neighbourhoods around the city.

"We all have to put our hands in the middle to solve this community problem," Arcand said.

"You look at areas like City Park, (it) doesn't have a homeless shelter. But the crime rate has almost doubled than where the homeless shelter is, so who gets blamed for that?"

Pearce said while there is an urgent need to help homeless people in Saskatoon, especially those with the most complex needs, he says the STC's wellness centre isn't meeting those needs.

"After so many broken promises and being neglected, our collective goodwill is completely gone," he said. “And the resounding position for residents of the community is this shelter must go. I think the whole concept of shelters and residential communities in Saskatoon is pretty much dead."

The conversation around how the presence of homeless shelters alters perceptions of crime and safety dominated Wednesday's governance and priorities committee.

Police say the next step is to engage and learn from residents about specific issues, but first they would like some help from residents.

"You need to report crimes to the police no matter how trivial you believe it is," acting police Chief Dave Haye said.

Attempting to work through community apathy is a key issue, as police look to not only shore up community safety, but the perception of community safety as well.

"If you are not calling police on a crime I don't believe you're being a responsible citizen," Ward 3 Coun. David Kirton said towards the end of the meeting.

"It is incredibly important to report everything to police ... if police had not received any calls, they wouldn't send anybody to the neighbourhood."

Haye told councillors crime reporting is used as an important piece of information that helps shape the police budget, resources, unit deployment and staff working hours.

Since the shelter moved to the area in December 2022, police calls for service have risen 122 per cent in the Confederation Suburban Centre neighbourhood. One of the top reported crimes is theft, with one business alone accounting for 751 separate incidents in 2023.

Coun. Troy Davies feels the issue has been heard many times at council, and while the city can't take charge of police operations, he would like to know if the province plans on providing additional support for potential crime implications after a shelter moves in.

"I'm not supporting any new shelter in the city until I have some answers on what it's going to take to make sure that we have everything properly funded to open these shelters," he said.

Police say five alternative response officers are currently being trained and will be deployed once they graduate from police college at the end of May.

An additional three community mobilization officers will also be working later this spring. While Fairhaven isn't the only area these officers will patrol, it is expected to be a focus of theirs.

City administration updated council on its conversations with the province about picking locations for two 30-bed shelters announced in October as part of a provincial plan to alleviate the homelessness crisis.

The province will fund the facilities, but the city was tasked with finding the locations.

City manager Jeff Jorgenson says roughly half a dozen sites have been identified, with two or three being the preferred options. Those shelters would open in the fall at the latest, with more information coming to council in May.

"It's just a case of working with the province to get these activated as soon as possible," he said.

Haye said there was a noticeable difference in calls when the shelter stopped serving people with extremely complex needs last October, and city councillors feel the city can't stop planning for more shelters.

"The work that has happened there has saved lives," Mayor Charlie Clark said.

"The drastic gap between the services needed and the services available is what is new," Ward 2 Coun. Hilary Gough said. "It has grown and it continues to grow. If we don't close that gap, safety will not be improved."

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