A new project spearheaded by the Edmonton Police Service will target the top 50 heavy users of the city’s police, medical and inner-city services. The project is aimed at better co-ordinating efforts among the agencies that work the most with the city’s chronically homeless.
“Without looking at specifics here, we’re finding we’re all talking about the same people,” police Chief Rod Knecht told the Journal this week. “The same people we’re arresting 50 times a year are the same people that are being transported by the ambulance 50 times a year, same people in the emergency ward, same people the shelters are dealing with.”
The key, Knecht says, is to focus on these so-called frequent flyers who place such a heavy burden on resources and fill the gaps in service.
“We think there’s a better way to keep them out of the system. It’s costing a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of effort,” he said.
A chronically homeless person costs the system about $100,000 per year, according to a presentation at Thursday’s police commission meeting by Jay Freeman, the executive director of the Edmonton Homeless Commission. By comparison, a person helped off the street and given the necessary support to stay housed costs taxpayers about $35,000 per year, Freeman said in his presentation.
Each year, police receive around 35,000 calls for service related to the city’s homeless, mentally ill and addicted populations, Knecht said. Each one of those calls takes an average of 104 minutes to complete.
“I think, if we do this properly, we’ll actually save money,” Knecht said. “And I don’t think little money — I think big money.”
But, he says, that’s not the project’s motivation.
“The big thing is, you’re going to be taking care of the most vulnerable people in the community. That’s a lofty goal (and) I think that’s a commendable goal for a city, a community, to be involved in,” Knecht said.
Saskatoon’s numbers are about the same. It costs $100,000 for a chronically homeless here as well. It’s way cheaper to find housing.