Submitted by Joel Harden, MPP for Ottawa Centre
A few weeks ago I asked for some insight from neighbours about how we keep each other safe. They wrote back and shared deep concerns.
Many acknowledged the extent of suffering in our community. A brief walk anywhere in the downtown core demonstrates this. We are facing a housing and homelessness crisis, an opioid crisis, and a mental health crisis.
This is leading to behaviours and interactions that make people feel unsafe. One person wrote to tell me of a friend who was assaulted outside a coffee shop, and suffered several injuries (including a major facial fracture).
That made me think about the tragic loss of Carl Reinboth in 2021, a street outreach worker at the Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC), who was stabbed by a man who was in mentally ill. Even today, Carl’s colleagues still feel his absence.
But what do we do about this?
In the Legislature, I recommended the government not require academic credentials for addiction peer support specialists. I noted the SWCHC’s Drug Overdose Prevention Program (DOPE), staffed by peer support workers, that is available to those who need it from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Monday to Friday, and over the weekends.
Since it started in 2019, this program has had impressive results. Its workers have had more than 31,000 engagements with neighbours, and 84 per cent of them said they gained knowledge and skills to help with substance use.
This is what community safety looks like, but it requires public investments. Ottawa’s Community Health Centres have written a comprehensive report that charts a way forward on this front, and I urge you to read it. When you do, email me, and tell me what you think. I will read every word you send.