By Kate Fenske
Everyone has a right to feel safe and welcome downtown. We heard this sentiment repeatedly when the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ surveyed 3,000 Winnipeggers about downtown priorities earlier this year.
Just as downtown stakeholders want to see the wave of investment and optimism in our downtown continue to grow, downtown businesses, residents and visitors also expect renewed focus on safety — including efforts to tackle challenges like homelessness, addiction and mental health.
Guided by stakeholder input, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ is working with our community partners to make downtown safer and more inclusive for everyone.
Downtown Watch Ambassadors
Our friendly, uniformed Watch Ambassadors patrol the downtown seven days a week, responding to safety concerns and providing extra eyes and ears for the Winnipeg Police Service.
We know the Watch Ambassadors are a valued and welcome presence: Among the Winnipeggers surveyed this year, 78% agreed that Downtown Watch Ambassadors make them feel safer when they visit downtown. Our Watch Ambassadors have already responded to over 4,000 service calls in 2019 and provided over 400 SafeWalks — which are free and available to everyone by phoning 204-958-SAFE.
Increasing the number of downtown patrols is an important priority for BIZ members, and we continue to work with the City of Winnipeg and other partners to build on the success of our Watch Ambassador program.
Enhancing safety in downtown Winnipeg demands a multifaceted approach that includes focus on social challenges and community needs.
The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ’s Community Homeless Assistance Team (CHAT) links some of our city’s most vulnerable citizens with resources such as mental health and addictions support, permanent housing options, and education and employment opportunities. The BIZ’s highly successful CHAT program focuses on one-on-one relationships to help clients more effectively address the barriers they face.
In the past year alone, the CHAT program has connected nearly 4,500 individuals to health, employment or community services. Over 2,100 individuals have been connected to substance use or addiction-related treatments, and CHAT staff have helped over 140 homeless individuals find stable housing.
Downtown Safety Partnership
The Downtown Safety Partnership (DSP) is a new initiative to improve community safety and public confidence in downtown Winnipeg. With guidance from the Winnipeg Police Service, the DSP will leverage technology and information sharing to help partners strengthen our collective response to safety issues. The approach is modeled on similar programs that have proven successful in other North American cities.
The DSP will see partners such as businesses, the City of Winnipeg and Downtown Winnipeg BIZ share communications channels and tools, improving real-time communication and making sure safety incidents receive a timely and appropriate response. The DSP will focus on visibility, data and outreach in an effort to help deter crime within the DSP pilot zone. Collaboration is essential and together, we must try different ways to create an inclusive downtown where everyone feels welcome and safe.
Improved Outdoor Lighting
Well-designed street lighting deters crime and improves perceptions of safety. Last year, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ joined our partners to conduct a street audit of lighting and identify dark zones and other areas of concern. Following these efforts, the City of Winnipeg announced a building exterior lighting grant that matches up to $15,000 spent by a business on outdoor lights. The grant is available to all building owners and members in downtown Winnipeg and the Exchange District. The BIZ will continue to advocate for increased incentives and a broader lighting strategy to further enhance perceptions of safety throughout the downtown.
Ongoing safety collaboration
Downtown safety requires a community response, whether in downtown Winnipeg or in city centres
elsewhere in Canada. To that end, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ collaborates with the International Downtown Association to share best practices on making downtowns safer, friendlier and more attractive.
Closer to home, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ continues to work with partners to ensure safety issues receive a coordinated response. In 2018 we joined our partners in welcoming over 150 community stakeholders to hear from national and international thought leaders at our first ever Downtown Winnipeg Safety Summit. We continue to implement and advocate for the safety recommendations that arose from the gathering.
Learn more about safety programs led by the BIZ and our partners at www.downtownwinnipegbiz.com/safety/
Kate Fenske is the CEO of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ