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City pumps $78,000 into safe ride

Kirsten Fenn/NNSL photo Lydia Bardak, coordinator of the safe ride program, said the van picked up more than 300 people in its first two weeks of operation. Monday July 31, 2017

City council voted to top up funding for a program the RCMP is praising for relieving pressure on the city's emergency-response system.

Kirsten Fenn/NNSL photo
Lydia Bardak, coordinator of the safe ride program, said the van picked up more than 300 people in its first two weeks of operation.
Monday July 31, 2017.

Council voted to allocate an additional $78,000 to fund the Yellowknife Street Outreach Service until the end of the year. The program, run by the Yellowknife Women's Society, funds a van that roams the city from 1 p.m. until 1 a.m. daily, helping intoxicated people to the sobering centre, the shelter or the hospital. Safe ride hit the streets in July, to coincide with the launch of the GNWT's sobering centre.

Although statistics on the effectiveness of the safe-ride program aren't available yet, RCMP also say it's seeing results - at Monday's municipal services committee meeting, staff Sgt. Alexandre Laporte said his organization has seen a “significant decrease” in the number of calls for service the police have received.

“We're seeing a trend, a significant diminishing of calls for service in downtown, for straight intoxication and disturbances,” he said. “The data seems to show that our calls for services downtown are actually substantiated by criminal acts now.”

He said data will be collected with results presented in September. He added he believes the data will show the police are able to “put their resources” in the “right areas” now that the safe-ride program is up and running.

“It's allowing you to do your job,” said Coun. Linda Bussey at the meeting, adding she provided her full support to add additional funding from the city to the program. “I think there are changes happening and I think if we don't support it until the end of the year we won't be able to measure those supports.”

She also said she wants to see the program as part of the next round of budget deliberations.

When the city launched the safe-ride program, the city allocated $100,000 it until the end of December, with the hopes of matching funds from the federal government. But the cheque never materialized.

“The $100,000 that we had was frankly not enough for the service,” said city administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett.

The additional funding will bring the total for 2017 invested by the city to $178,000 and allow the program to run until the end of 2017.

The money was reallocated from the Community Safety Officers budget. Originally, the city had budgeted $300,000 was for community safety officers, but Bassi-Kellet told Yellowknifer this project turned out to be more complicated than initially expected for legal reasons. She said the city is now looking for “creative options and solutions” to meet those same goals and the safe-ride program fits the bill.

Not everyone was on board with allocating the extra money. Coun. Niels Konge questioned the expense of the program, confirming that to continue it would put the city on the hook for $360,000 a year.

Councillors aren't giving up hope that the federal government could in future help fund the program.

“I really do hope that the information does trickle up to the top and the GNWT's people understand that this is a valuable program and hopefully partner with the city in chipping in more funding in the future,” said Coun. Shauna Morgan.

The motion passed with Councillors Julian Morse, Linda Bussey, Rebecca Alty and Shauna Morgan in favour and Counillor Niels Konge opposed.

Launched in July, safe-ride program co-ordinator Lydia Bardak said more than 300 people took advantage of the voluntary safe ride in its first two weeks of operation. Earlier this month, Yellowknifer reported around 151 people had been admitted to the GNWT's sobering centre, with an average of 11 people per night - the majority transported by Bardak and her safe ride program.