I hear everyday from Ward 2 neighbours that they want our neighbourhoods, our community, and our City as a whole to be safe and its residents to be healthy and well. This messaging is consistent - whether it comes in the form of a safety concern, or an idea for a project, improved programs or increased access. Wellbeing and safety as goals are intricately linked and complex, and work often crosses over jurisdiction - between orders of government, and across sectors. The role of the City of Saskatoon in Community Safety and Wellbeing (CSW) issues is not always communicated as explicitly as it could be and as with anything, has changed over time.
Below you'll find some of my reflections and lots of information and links on these issues and the City of Saskatoon's role as it stands today. This is not meant to be an exhaustive listing, but rather as an introduction to the the issues, the City's role, and what I hear from your neighbours about their expectations and goals for our community, both as the Council Lead for Community Safety and Wellbeing, the Ward 2 Councillor, and as someone passionate about Saskatoon as a great community to live, work, and play for all residents.
Recently, the administration presented a report to City Council outlining the ways in which the City is engaged in 'social development'. Much of this work is closely linked to community wellbeing. The report included an overview table of the City's current social development initiatives complete with the municipal role and the many partners involved. The full report is available with all attachments under item 8.1.2 from Council's October agenda. The report outlines that,
"Social development and planning at the municipal level means addressing social issues at the community level. Social development is about putting people at the centre of development and improving the well-being of individuals in society so they can reach their full potential"
Now, let's talk about some of the Community Safety and Wellbeing (CSW) issues that I get asked about most often.
1. Housing and Homelessness
Housing The City's role in affordable housing is longstanding with grant programs funded through a reserve that has been in place since the late 1980s. The Housing Business Plan is updated every 10 years with targets for housing across a spectrum of attainability (from entry level ownership through to affordable rental). Council and the public receive an annual report on the progress of this plan and the current plan extends to 2022. The administration works with non-profit housing providers and market developers to help to address these challenges. Projects are typically supported by other orders of Government (Provincial and Federal) and the work is in alignment with relevant strategies such as the Federal Government's National Housing Strategy. For example, in 2017, the City supported the creation of 377 new attainable units - 60 of them affordable rental targeted at low income families. Saskatoon's grants provide up to 10% of a capital project (construction or major renovation) that will see a building or unit designated in an affordable way. The latest update confirms that while the supply shortages that have been experienced in our City in the past are no longer, there remains a considerable affordability challenge, especially at the lower end of the market. With Average rent for an apartment sitting at $905 (1bdrm), $1,093 (2bdrm), and $1,381 (3bdrm) while a minimum wage monthly income is $1,940, 65% of renter households are in core housing need, meaning that they spend over 30% of their income on rent and utilities.
Good quality affordable housing that stays affordable can help to address this. Many such units are provided by community housing providers. Many affordable units are in the private market as well, however, quality is not consistent. I am very concerned about the state of many rental properties at the most affordable end of the market and whether they are properly set up/maintained enough to promote wellbeing and positive participation in community by tenants. Through City Council, I have secured support to have the City research a more active role in ensuring landlord responsibility for properties beyond our current bylaws. This could include business licencing for landlords, and nuisance abatement components. I hope to have a report back on this before year's end.
Homelessness While access to affordable housing is a major component of preventing and addressing homelessness, it is not the only component. The City of Saskatoon supports the work of addressing homelessness in our City in a few ways. First, by providing an annual grant to the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership for their work implementing the Saskatoon Homelessness Action Plan. The City is also a partner in the Community-University Institute for Social Research, which manages the Point-in-time Homelessness Counts in our City and published this report card with 2018 data showing a troubling picture of homelessness and housing insecurity in our community. Partnerships are key to this work, and the City is an important partner and funder. In recent years, strong partnerships have formed around a cold weather strategy with identified warm up locations. Weather extremes pose great risk for people who are homeless and unsheltered and work has begun to strategize around hot weather extremes as well, which we know are becoming more severe and frequent with climate change.
2. Crime & Community Safety
Crime One of the most common associations that we have with safety is crime. The Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) responds to crime in our City. The work is diverse, with 54 different areas of policing to respond to crime and promote community safety. On the operational side, much of SPS’s enforcement and safety work done in partnership with community and sector partners as well as other policing services such as the RCMP.
Mechanisms for strategic oversight of the Police Service are commonly misunderstood. The SPS budget forms part of the City of Saskatoon Municipal budget, however, governance and strategic oversight of the Police is the responsibility of the Board of Police Commissioners (BOPC) otherwise known as the Police Commission. The BOPC is made up of the Mayor, two members of City Council, and four members of the community/public. With respect to resourcing of Police, the BOPC presents annual budgets for Council’s approval along with the City budgets, with the primary source of funding being City general revenue (property taxes).
Community Safety The responsibility for crime prevention and promoting safety extends well beyond Policing – all sectors and governments have a role. The City of Saskatoon works to design spaces that promote safety and respond to environmental factors that do not. The City uses Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles in its planning, including in the review of new city plans, facilities, and more. In already established areas, neighbourhood planning work helps to identify safety issues in neighbourhoods that can be addressed by residents, the City, or other partners. This is typically done as a component of Local Area Plans.
Safety is also promoted and protected by the Saskatoon Fire Department, which not only responds to fires and other emergencies, but promotes safety through fire prevention, needle safety, property maintenance, and more. The Community Support program is a newer addition to the capacity in the City to respond to issues at the street level, and help to connect people to services.
Community Wellbeing & Crime It is well established that crime in community is not a standalone issue and crime prevention is closely tied to wellbeing. Promoting wellbeing in our community and providing opportunities for wellbeing in each member of our community is key to reducing and preventing crime, and ideally these interventions start in youth. Recently, the City partnered with youth advisors and a variety of institutional and organizational partners on a submission to the Smart Cities Challenge. Saskatoon’s project proposes to break the cycle and reduce incarceration among indigenous youth in our City by creating a new cycle focused on building purpose, belonging, security and identity.
The City invests in a variety of organizations through grant programs. Many of these organizations serve youth and all contribute to community wellbeing in some way. Community Associations are also supported by the City to promote wellbeing through affordable programs, community cleanups, and community information sharing.
As I learn more about the work of other communities and their journeys toward improving community wellbeing and preventing crime, I become increasingly convinced that a city-wide strategy is necessary. I believe that such a strategy would help to align efforts across sectors and governments, and establish a framework for action, investment and to track progress.
--- More to come! ----