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WRPS responds to homelessness with new strategy

Strategy will guide police and community partners in addressing homelessness in Waterloo Region
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A homeless encampment near Dundas Street in Cambridge.

Homelessness remains a consistent concern in Cambridge and Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) says it is addressing the most vulnerable in our community with a new homelessness and encampment strategy.

The strategy highlights partnerships WRPS has built with local health and mental health agencies who assist those affected by homelessness in Waterloo Region.

Developed by the Community Engagement and Wellbeing Branch of the WRPS, the framework outlines effective police deployment, education and training initiatives, partnerships, and a commitment to the homeless community.

Inspector Beth Houston told WRPS board members Wednesday that police were asked to develop strategies to help guide and inform the work of officers last year, specifically around youth and youth engagement, mental health, and homelessness and encampments.

“These strategies are a starting place, a blueprint, a direction to go,” she said, adding the strategy promotes engagement of all community partners and stakeholders.

“I wish I could tell you that we have figured out the magic-wand solution as to how to fix and address this massive societal issue but that is not reality,” Houston said.

“Homelessness includes a variety of circumstances such as living on the street, or places not meant for habitation, staying in our shelter system, and staying in precarious or inadequate housing," she said. 

"The root causes of this issue widely vary from person to person. There are numerous community partners engaged with the homeless population along with WPRS in the region.”

Houston said WRPS wants to make sure its doors remain open to all agencies who are willing to offer help.

“The benefits of these relationships are reciprocal," she said. "As a police agency, we need to be able to support our partnering agencies with information and data and also help support their proposal for mental health planning within their own agencies.”

Medium and long-term goals of the strategy include developing a multi-sector team to respond to encampments and championing a homelessness services coordinated-access system.

Houston said WRPS partners will measure acuity through the system and prioritize needs for housing and support.

“This includes bringing in all necessary agencies who can assist when encampments are discovered,” Houston said.

Houston said WRPS is also working to develop a public awareness campaign and communication strategy using social media.

“WRPS will build on engagement opportunities with all regional and geographical sub-committee partnerships regarding housing strategies. We will also continue our role on the regional encampment by-law response protocol committee, and engagement with our shelter care partners,” Houston said.

“Most importantly, we will continue to connect and support individuals experiencing homelessness.”

WRPS chief Bryan Larkin said police are always working in areas identified in the strategy, and will become more important as police look at diversion and alternative service delivery methods to maximize limited resources.  

Short-term goals include developing a reporting protocol for identifying encampment locations as well as enhanced training to guide the response of police and their service delivery partners.

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