Safer Communities for All:
An Update from the Living in Community Steering Committee
Background: What is "Living in Community?"
Starting in the fall of 2017, this committee has been meeting about once a month to identify issues and solutions at the neighbourhood level. To create a safe space for very difficult conversations these meetings are closed-door, but now that the process is well established, expect to hear regular updates in formats like this. It is important to note, here, that this is a city-wide process. A lot of the conversation around sex work in St. John's (and at the Living in Community table) focuses on the street-based sex trade; this is the most visible part of the industry, and is also where many of the concerns emerge, both for the safety of vulnerable workers and people involved, and residents of neighbourhoods in which it is concentrated. That said, the goal of the Living in Community process is to make the whole city a safer place for all.
What we've heard from the community
The Living in Community steering committee includes representation from a wide range of stakeholders, including community organizations, government representatives, sex workers, businesses, and residents. Part of each meeting is dedicated to sharing what's being discussed on the ground around this issue.
Some of the most important points that we have heard loud and clear are:
That sex work, and people consensually employed in it, is a part of almost every neighbourhood in the city - often inobtrusively
That residents in the Tessier Park-Longs Hill area remain very concerned about the impacts of street-based sex trade involvement in their neighbourhood. They cite disruption, noise, violence, and drug use as primary concerns. These concerns are particularly pressing for women.
That people working in street-based sex work share many concerns about safety with local residents and are often some of our city's most marginalized.
A collective desire to prevent youth sexual exploitation, at the street level and across our city.
That there is a strong commitment from the RNC and from the City of St. John's to working with the community in developing solutions that respect the rights of all.
Solutions will not be easy, or quick, but for the first time in the city's history, all the voices are speaking to each other at the same table.
Work to Date
At the LIC table we've discussed a number of changes coming to the city that will have a significant positive impact on many of the neighbourhood-level challenges being discussed at Living in Community. It is worth noting that many of these challenges - intravenous drug use and equipment and mental health crisis supports in particular - overlap with, but are very much not confined to the sex worker community. This is what we have accomplished so far.
1. Outdoor safe needle disposal boxes:
Disposal of used syringes is a major issue here in St. John's; this has improved with the installation of metal collection boxes designed for outdoor use in neighbourhoods across the city. These are emptied regularly by trained personnel. Some are larger mailbox-like units, others smaller and affixed to telephone poles. All are designed to withstand our harsh climate. When speaking to residents of neighbourhoods in which street-based sex work and sex trade involvement is happening, used needles were one of the most frequently-raised topics, so this is welcome news.
2. Mental health crisis response teams deployed:
Another neighbourhood-level issue we heard a lot about was the need for better response to individuals in crisis. This has also been heard loud and clear from the RNC, who have launched a Mental Health Mobile Crisis Response Team. In the past, these crises would see a response from uniformed officers in cruisers, which could escalate already tense situations. By contrast, the crisis response teams now consist of a plain-clothes officer and health care professional trained for these situations, responding in an unmarked vehicle.
3. Changes to lighting:
One specific concern that has emerged from the Tessier Park-Long's Hill neighbourhood has been around lighting; there are a number of green spaces between residential areas that were previously unlit. This has changed, thanks to resident input. The City has worked on lighting designed to improve safety for all users of public space in the area.
4. Neighbourhood Summit:
One of the things we've heard a lot from residents so far is the need for more support in getting themselves organized into associations and trained to engage with issues like this one. With that in mind, Happy City hosted a large neighbourhood summit in September that acted as a chance for groups to access some of that initial support and training and meet like-minded people from across the city.
5. Regular public community meetings:
Ward 2 Councillor Hope Jamieson, the Anglican Church, and the Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) have partnered to host monthly community gatherings at the Crypt in the Anglican Cathedral. This is a chance for community members to come down and get information, share their ideas and concerns, have a cup of tea, and create shared goals. Feedback from these gatherings is being brought to the Living in Community table, which will continue to be a smaller group that meets privately to ensure a safe space for dialogue. Contact Happy City (see below) to be added to the notification list for these events.
6. Living in Community website:
We have launched a dedicated website for the Living in Community process where you can find information, resources, and updates.
7. Filling a staff position:
Thanks to support from the City of St. John's, Happy City has filled a staff position to support the Living in Community process. Having trained and dedicated staff is a key part of success when working on such a difficult issue, and we are appreciative of the work this staff member does.
We will be reconnecting with our colleagues in Vancouver to check in, and continuing to work on both ground-level solutions and big-picture ideas of how to change the city for the better.
The Living in Community steering committee recognizes that this process is long, slow, and complex, and that there is much work to be done before everyone in our communities feels safe and included. We hope to hear ideas from people across St. John's about what priorities should be.
Staying in Touch
If you have an idea to share, or just want to be added to the email list for future updates, send a quick email to email@example.com