A partnership between Thunder Bay police and social service agencies aimed at educating and providing support for people congregating at store entrances is underway.
It is hoped to result in a safe environment for everyone.
The Property Management Collaboration under the larger Project Prevent initiative is spearheaded by Thunder Bay police.
There are two objectives of the project, says Thunder Bay Police Service Insp. Derek West.
“The first thing that’s being done is touching base with the business improvement areas or the management companies of the larger areas like the Thunder Centre, County Fair and Arthur Street Market Place,” he said. “Part of that is to do a little bit of education which includes educating the public specifically to the Safe Streets Act, which is essentially pan handling, and the fact that this shouldn’t be done.”
Thunder Bay police Const. Joe Zaina has reached out to several managers of businesses, which include Canadian Tire, Walmart stores and other businesses. As a component of the education, each business has been asked to install signs as part of the Safe Street Act so people will understand their obligation to not support the panhandling activity.
“We appreciate that Thunder Bay is very generous and they like to help people, so we’ve asked them to support the organizations that are providing the help,” said West.
“The second thing is we want to educate the public about people that are in need. They need support because they are a marginalized and vulnerable population and that there are services in town that people can reach out to use. . . . And I’m sure that some of these people already use these services.”
West said with the social navigators from the agencies partnered with them, they can make introductions or jointly go out and build relationships together.
“While speaking to people one-on-one, in what we call a humanistic basis to say, ‘Hi, how are you today,’ we get to know them and inform them that we are not there to arrest them,” he said.
“We will ask them not to do the panhandling and at the same time find a way to introduce them to the navigators . . . and try and build on a relationship to help them and show them what services are offered.”
Jason Otholt, manager of Walmart in County Fair Plaza, lives in that area and says the project is a positive thing.
“I think what is really important is what they are looking at is not just a Band-Aid fix to removing unwanted clientele, it’s actually looking at long-term effects and are working with agencies like S.O.S. and Shelter House and look at how to help people so that they can make the right choices and get their life back on track,” he said. “It’s one thing to ask that person to leave, but how do we help that person? How can we help them . . . to make those right choices?”
Nikki Farrell, manager of the Arthur Street Walmart store, also thinks it’s a great idea.
“I don’t have some of the same problems that Jason has at his store, but at the same time, we still have a lot of people that still need the help and support from the community rather than just pushing them off into a different area of the community.”
West says that it is important that there is a front-line presence from the social service agencies just as there is from police, and it’s going to take the entire community to make this work.
“We are actually trying to community build or relationship build for the whole community,” Said West. He said he has spoken to other BIAs in town and others who are invested in this initiative and they all recognize the vulnerabilities of people, of poverty and homelessness and recommend that we make these people feel like part of our community, then they will take some pride in the community in knowing there is people to reach out to.