A report by Nelson Street Outreach shows the pilot project is having success in providing services but needs to do a better job in its second year of reaching out to local businesses.
The final report, which was presented as a draft to city council in February and can be read at the bottom of this story, breaks down in detail what the team achieved between October 2016 to October 2017.
Rona Park, executive director of Nelson Community Services, told the Star that the positive response from the team’s clients stood out in the report.
“We were not surprised at all with the outcomes related to clients and how they felt about the service,” said Park. “When you go from zero to 100, it’s gotta be felt to be positive by those who receive the services and I think we heard that resoundingly across the board.”
Jeremy Kelly, Ryall Giuliano and Bernadette White, the latter of whom has since left the team, provided 4,227 services to 287 people in their first year walking downtown Nelson. The majority of those services were related to basic needs, such as handing out food or clothing.
Of those people, 201 identified as male, 81 identified as female and five identified as transgender or non-binary, while 118 of the clients were 20 to 30 years old.
Only a quarter of the team’s clients were housed at intake. The report shows 107 people said they were either on government assistance or applying for it. Just 25 cited panhandling as a source of income, and 19 of those people identified as having come from other communities.
“It is a relatively small percentage of people who do rely on [panhandling],” said Park. “To be honest, I think that is a significant thing here. … Do we really want to put in a whole panhandling bylaw and all the costs associated with it for a mere 25 people over the course of a year who might choose that method?
“It does raise the question.”
The report cites several notable successes during the project’s inaugural year.
The team helped 38 clients take steps toward recovery from either mental health or substance abuse challenges, and 20 clients entered into treatment programs. Housing was found for 18 people, 14 secured employment and one survived a fentanyl overdose thanks to an intervention by Kelly.
Forty seven of the team’s 287 clients have since had their files closed.
Friday morning events at the Salvation Army that brought together service users and providers were also organized by the outreach team. They held regular soccer games for clients, which were attended by up to 50 people each time, and co-ordinated monthly meetings between service providers.
The report also shows a correlation between the project and a decrease in visits to Kootenay Lake Hospital’s emergency department.
Between Oct. 1, 2016 and Sept. 30, 2017, there were 619 hospital visits that cited mental health and or substance use as the reason for the visit, which is down 5.6 per cent from the previous year.
There was also a decrease in the number of clients who visited the hospital four or more times. Notably, while there were four patients who visited the hospital 10 or more times between October 2015 and September 2016, no patients checked in at KLH with the same frequency during the outreach team’s year.
Patients visiting five-to-nine times and four times per year also saw major decreases.
Park said outreach team members have often redirected clients away from the hospital to other services, or visited clients in the emergency department to help determine their needs.
Still, the report also reveals a dissatisfaction felt by local businesses.
Thirty per cent of businesses surveyed by the team described their relationship with the street community as “dissatisfied,” while another 30 per cent refer to it as “neutral,” which Park takes to mean ambivalent.
Nearly half of business respondents also said they had not noticed changes downtown, and further feedback indicated the team needs to better promote itself.
Park said she was surprised by the response, and that it was heard loud and clear.
“It’s just a signal for us,” she said. “It’s certainly in our work plan now to work more intensely with the business community to try to build some tolerance and understanding.”
Data provided by the Nelson Police Department also shows an increase in calls related to crimes.
It’s not clear, however, if that is in relation to the introduction of the outreach team, the addition of a downtown beat cop last year or an overall increase in crime. It also doesn’t show what time of day calls are being made — the team does not work at night — or if they are specifically related to the street community.
Park said multiple years of data are needed for a better picture of what impact the team might be having on crime.
“This is one of the rationales for at least running a program like this three years to get some reliable data on trends and change,” said Park. “I think that’s fair to say across the board. Even the ER data … I think over three years we’ll see much more real data on the kind of impact a program like this has.”
The team has already committed to operating for a second year. Park said it is currently $6,500 shy of its projected $100,000 budget and is looking at fundraising options.