And you wouldn’t be too far off.
The Community Wellness and Public Safety Alliance was first formed in 2015, under the vision of taking an honest and critical look at how issues related to drug use, addiction, poverty and mental health are being addressed in Winnipeg, and how those systems could be improved and possibly reformed.
It was a mission that resonated with True North Sports + Entertainment’s executive chairman and – more importantly – passionate Winnipegger, Mark Chipman.
“Working downtown and being in the neighbourhood frequently where you’re going out for lunch or you’re walking here or there to do errands, I just became more and more aware of what I thought was a growing issue around public intoxication,” Chipman says. “So, I decided to just kind of poke around the subject and see if there wasn’t something that could be done to organize some people and resources around trying to help people who were chronically addicted to potable and non-potable substances.”
Before long, the group comprised members of the Winnipeg Police Service, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Health Sciences Centre, Addictions Foundation Manitoba, and other individuals like Damon Johnston, president of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg.
“Over the course of the three years that followed, this very organic process just sort of unfolded wherein people who work in social service agencies or public institutions or who come from the health care world came together with an objective of just trying to find a better solution for how those members of our population are being treated for their addiction, and came to the conclusion that there was arguably a better way of managing the effects of alcohol abuse and addiction in this part of the city,” Chipman says.
Members of the group traveled to like-sized markets nearby in Saskatoon, Edmonton and Calgary, to observe best practices there, ultimately putting together a business plan that was published about a year ago. It included the group’s collaborative recommendations for how to more effectively and efficiently address substance abuse and addiction in Winnipeg, which, by that time, had grown to include the meth crisis still gripping the city today.
One of the Alliance’s more significant recommendations is a proposed extensive multi-functional drop-in facility, something Chipman says he feels Winnipeg is lacking.
“Most of the people we’re talking about need to not only recover but they also have to find a way out of the circumstances that got them there in the first place,” Chipman says. “Many of these people are really suffering from poverty, and you need a range of services that can help them begin to rebuild their lives. So, there’s a short and long-term housing component to it, and all of the counselling services that you can imagine one would need along the way.
“Some people are doing these kinds of things in the city right now and I’m hesitant to suggest that they’re not doing it well, I just don’t think there’s ever been enough resources applied to this and I think it’s something that’s gotten away from us.”
In August, Premier Brian Pallister unveiled his party’s proposed ‘Safer Streets, Safer Lives’ action plan, which indicates that it was created using the recommendations from the Alliance, in addition to other organizations and reports.
According to the plan, it will “improve and enhance access to mental health and addictions services,” including a new acute medical sobering facility, new recovery and drop-in centres, enhanced withdrawal services, more recovery housing units, youth outreach programs, and more.
“There’s not a one-size-fits-all response; different people enter [addiction] at different points in their lives and are exposed to it for different lengths of time. There’s a range of services that people who struggle from these types of addictions require,” Chipman says. “But there’s a very acute aspect to it right now, in terms of what people are dealing with meth. One thing that is unique about that addiction, and unlike some others, is that the challenge of detoxing from it is very, very different and requires a high level of professional medical care. That was one of the recommendations in our business plan that was a part of the continuum that was lacking, and that people would need access to.”
Though Chipman knows they are only in the beginning stages of achieving a better functioning system for dealing with an incredibly complex issue and overcoming the city’s current struggle with meth addiction, he looks to Winnipeg’s track record against adversity for the optimism he has that the city will ultimately come out on top.
“I long ago learned that all of the success that we’ve had here, it’s never been for any one reason other than people working together. That’s what Winnipeg is, it’s this collective will that sort of propels us, and that’s exactly what I’ve experienced in this process.
“Winnipeggers care about Winnipeg deeply. They really do. I’m deeply concerned – and I think a lot of people are – but I’m cautiously optimistic now that more people are understanding the gravity of this, and there’s an enormous skillset that exists in the city already that is willing to deal with this.
“We’ll find a way. We always have.”
Chipman is expected to elaborate on his involvement with the Community Wellness and Public Safety Alliance and its initiatives on September 27, at The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce’s September luncheon, The State of Hockey, where he’ll sit down with TSN’s Dennis Beyak for a ‘Fireside Chat.’
Tickets are limited and available now.