The Kamloops Food Policy Council has launched a series on food and the city to explore a number of deeper civic discussions leading up to our municipal election. As the late urban planner and Canadian food advocate Wayne Roberts wrote, “food is a lever.” Food is how we connect to the land, our communities, and our traditions. And because food is so impactful in all our lives, it is a useful lever through which we can create transformative changes in other areas. Strong local food systems can help us get to more affordable housing, walkable neighbourhoods, stronger local economies, spaces for safety and belonging, and more.
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Exploring Community Safety in Kamloops – Part Two
*The first part of this post can be found here.
Community safety is a topic that reaches every aspect of our lives, including mental and physical health, housing and food security, and our social interactions and feelings of belonging. Community safety affects everyone and can only be achieved when individuals have a lack of need and want. You can read more about our exploration of the concept of community safety in Kamloops here.
Community safety has been a topic of great discussion at the KFPC as we approach the upcoming municipal election. These discussions have led us to explore how we can improve real and perceived safety for everyone in our community based on several common themes: mental and physical health, housing and food security, and social health.
Mental health is a critical aspect for community safety as it impacts safety on an individual and city-wide level. Like much of BC, Kamloops is experiencing a mental health care crisis. Our current funding structure and administrative services for mental health rely heavily on policing. This has caused police to be the primary contact for wellness checks, suspected overdoses, domestic violence incidents, and other mental health related crises. However, police are not trained in mental health crisis intervention techniques and de-escalation. Instead, they may respond with violence and detention, which can heighten the distress of the individual they are responding to.
One alternative that we are seeing in Kamloops is the Car 40 program. This program pairs a psychiatric nurse with a plain clothes officer, who respond together to mental health related 911 calls that may traditionally have been responded to solely by police. This makes for a safer response for the individual they are attending to and frees up police officers and EMTs for other calls. This response also allows for an evaluation before the individual may be taken to the ER for further help, if deemed necessary by the professional.
Despite the program’s headway, staffing of psychiatric nurses and the extra expenses for program expansion have historically hindered Car 40’s reach. Right now, Car 40 operates during business hours, but does not have coverage during evenings and weekends. Research shows the lack of psychiatric nurses in our area is not due to a lack of interest in the field, but a lack of opportunities for students to have practical experiences in psychiatric care.
Increasing the communication within the partnership between Interior Health (IH) and Thompson Rivers University’s School of Nursing (TRU SON) can help create more opportunities for student nurses to practice psychiatric care and encourage growth in this field of nursing to help bolster our existing care and response options for individuals in mental health crises. Furthermore, increased staffing for responses like Car 40 can decrease strain on other institutions, such as police, that have other roles to perform in community safety.
Kamloops is currently experiencing a healthcare crisis with wide-reaching consequences on almost all areas of our lives, including community safety for our physical well-being. We have all experienced long wait times to access our family doctor, walk in clinics, or care at the emergency room. For people oppressed in our communities, such as those experiencing substance abuse disorders, mental illnesses, homelessness, poverty, those a part of a racial minority, or individuals living in larger bodies, accessing health care becomes even more complicated. All these groups may experience biases and stigma that can interfere with the quality of care they receive, if they can even access a medical professional.
For some, hours of availability for walk-in clinics and long wait times at the ER may prevent them from accessing care if they need to decide between going to work that day or tending to children, versus taking care of their physical health. For others, the treatment they receive from medical staff or other patrons may deter them from seeking care. And for other groups of people, they may not be in a mental or physical state that is well enough to even try to access care, such as those with substance use disorder.
While communities across Canada try to amend their doctor shortages, we also encourage communities to look into what types of clinics and medical care are currently available and accessible to those in need. Do we have street teams that help those experiencing substance use disorder, or homelessness access care without fear of stigma? Do we have enough trauma and culturally informed providers to treat our Indigenous populations? Is childcare offered while parents wait to receive care? Do we have clinics that are open 24 hours, to prevent overburdening our hospitals with non-emergent care needs?
Instead of asking whether there is “enough” care in our communities, we want governments to consider if there is enough accessible care available; are clinics open outside of regular business hours, is there childcare provided, are staff trained in trauma-informed practices?
Housing for all is essential to community safety. Unfortunately, Kamloops is experiencing a major crisis of housing affordability and availability. You can read more about KFPC’s policy recommendations for housing here.
In addition to physical health care, access to food to maintain one’s health is also a necessity when it comes to community safety and wellness. Panic buying during the early days of Covid-19 and highway closures last fall have shown us all the importance of a strong local food-supply. On average, our grocers stock two days worth of food at a time. In times of emergency or delayed delivery, we have seen firsthand how quickly grocery store shelves can become empty.
To build a resilient food system, we must invest in our own food producers and processors to ensure we have continued access to food in the event of an emergency. Buying local and encouraging retailers to stock Okanagan or Interior products on their shelves can help ensure continued access to food in the event we cannot import food from other areas of the province, country, or internationally. Supporting initiatives like the KFPC’s food hub, The Stir, is key in strengthening the ability of our region to produce, process, preserve, and distribute local food.
Another factor to consider when talking about food security is equitable access to food. Do all people have access to fresh, culturally appropriate foods? Supporting programs like the Butler Urban Farm, an open access farm that anyone can harvest from during drop-in hours, is one piece of ensuring food security for everyone. We also have to ensure community food programming, such as food banks, are open during accessible hours or have alternatives if an individual is unable to pick up their own food. The Kamloops Food Bank has recently extended their business week to include Saturdays to help reach more people in need of food.
A more equitable dispersion of food security resources like community pantries and fridges can help more people have steadier and less stigmatised access to food than would otherwise be possible. Programs like the MacDonald Produce shelf help meet this need of immediate physical hunger for anyone in the community. Community fridges or pantries allow people to leave food and take food, in an anonymous fashion helps eliminate some of the stigma folks face when accessing resources like a food bank or soup kitchen. It also offers an ease of access for street entrenched folks that is not available through traditional food banks. A free access food shelf in their neighbourhood ensures many can get nutrition when they need it and are of mind to access it; they won’t need to try and find transportation to the food bank on their assigned day, and don’t need to carry or store the food for multiple days, like they would need to if accessing the food bank and acquiring a week’s worth of food.
Many groups already facing a lack of safety physically, mentally, or regarding food and housing, have an added social violence in their daily lives through social interactions. Aggressive comments, actions, and care from community members and providers alike can have further negative impacts on the way an individual feels about themselves and their right to safety. A recent study published by the National Library of Medicine stated that “microaggressions may play a role in increasing the morbidity and mortality observed among certain racial minority groups as well as in people of low socioeconomic status” (2021).
De-stigmatizing the way community members and professionals think about people of different races, economic statuses, and those who are experiencing homelessness and mental health or substance abuse challenges, can drastically improve the daily safety levels of these groups of people.
Health, governing, and policing institutions have a large influence in the way people think about others in their communities. Educating the public about how to respond to crises and what types of care are needed, can go a long way in creating a safer community. This may look like public ad campaigns teaching the public about how to respond to certain situations. For example, how to talk to 911 when you suspect someone is overdosing. It is recommended when an individual comes across someone they suspect is experiencing an overdose, that they do not say this to a 911 operator, but rather report they have found someone unconscious, to reduce preconceived ideas about the individual by the emergency responders. Knowledge like this can dramatically influence the type of care an individual receives. By educating the public about some of the challenges working against certain groups who experience a lack of safety disproportionately to other populations, can help negate stereotypes and microaggressions, helping improve citizen’s responses to seeing people in need of help.
More education for providers about trauma informed care for oppressed and stereotyped individuals can help improve the care they provide. Like citizens, if providers understand circumstances working against certain individuals, they are less likely to blame the individual themselves for needing care, and can instead offer compassionate care that can help the individual feel less afraid to access similar services next time they need help, instead of feeling afraid or anxious about having an unsafe interaction with a care or service provider.
Our communities are safer and healthier when citizens are educated about resources available and when they can be helpful. Our neighbour’s safety directly affects our own, and we all have a role to play in making our municipalities feel safe for everyone.
You can learn more about the importance of public and accessible spaces, which also contribute to public safety, here.
A safer city involves us all
We all have a role to play in helping our communities feel safer. Educating ourselves, and demanding health, governing, and policing institutions do their part to educate the public and create new, or bolster existing services, is the next step in improving community safety.
KFPC’s Policy Recommendations to Increase Community Safety for All:
- Collaborative development of a comprehensive community safety strategy, including:
- Meaningful involvement from those most in need and most lacking safety in our communities
- Leadership and partnership efforts from the whole community, including the social service sector, business sector, neighbourhood associations, those with lived experience, and elected representatives
- The implementation of safety audits in different community environments to inform our understanding of our existing safety levels, and allowing us to build a strategy based on immediate needs
- Reallocation of municipal funding to reduce the responsibilities of the police in situations where they are not the best equipped to create safety, such as mental health issues or domestic disputes
- more street outreach teams, more support for basic needs like housing and food security
- Improvements to the accessibility of our healthcare system including:
- Additional communication between IH and TRU SON to create more practicum placements in psychiatric nursing for student nurses to help increase the availability of psychiatric care.
- Clinics (seperate from the ER) that are available for longer hours to accommodate folks who cannot take time off of work to seek medical attention.
- Clinics that provide child care,
- Clinicians and all staff trained in trauma-informed practices, particularly in regards to: those experiencing homlessness, substance abuse-disorder, and other mental health crises; domestic violence and abuse victims; fat people; and Indigenous Peoples.
- The implementation of community pantries and fridges in neighbourhoods across Kamloops.
- An increase in public-education aiming to destigmatize marginalised communities and teach citizens how to respond to a variety of mental and physical crises.