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City looks at deploying uniformed 'ambassadors' to keep downtown safe and friendly

They won't be security guards. They'll be nice folk who'll provide us with a sense of assurance and comfort
20200130 Community Care Box Welcoming Streets KA 02
City of Guelph's Welcoming Streets initiative includes boxes full of free hats, mitts, food and feminine hygiene products. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday

Modelling programs developed in Guelph, North Bay and other communities, Sault Ste. Marie is considering using paid and volunteer 'ambassadors' as part of a pilot program aimed at making Queenstown a friendlier and safer place.

Here's how Tom Vair, the city's deputy chief administrative officer for community development and enterprise services, describes the initiative in a report prepared for Monday's City Council meeting:

Attired in distinct uniforms, the ambassador team share a common affinity for downtown and an intimate understanding of what's happening around the neighborhood.

The Downtown Ambassador program aims to make downtown Sault Ste. Marie’s streets a comfortable and safe place to work, live, and visit.

Ambassadors help the public with directions, parking, provide answers to questions and check in with local businesses. They are a liaison between the downtown business community and the Downtown Association, city and Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, Canadian Mental Health Association and others.

In addition, they will receive training in CPR, mental health first aid and naloxone administration.

It is important to note that the ambassadors are not security guards.

They will be trained to know the appropriate organization to call should a situation arise and are there to provide friendly assistance to anyone in the downtown.

Their presence, though, will provide a level of assurance and comfort for people in the downtown.

A collaboration with the CMHA and their peer support worker program will see peer support workers participate on neighbourhood walks and also respond to business owners experiencing an issue that may not be police-related but includes an individual in distress or a situation that could escalate without proper intervention.

Links to other community initiatives – including the Neighbourhood Resource Centre (NRC) under development and the Wellness Bus – will be established to create synergies with other available programs.

Other communities instituting such programs have tracked metrics such as:

  • business assist
  • non-emergency police calls
  • behavior redirection
  • graffiti/stickers/trash
  • safety escorts
  • homeless outreach
  • motorist assist/parking assist
  • visitor direction/referral

Other features of the proposed downtown safety strategy include increased use of surveillance cameras and security patrols, application of Crime Prevention Through Environment Design approaches, and working to get more people downtown once the pandemic restrictions are lifted.

Monday's City Council meeting will be livestreamed on SooToday starting at 4:30 p.m.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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