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Community patrol ready to roll

Erika Sherk
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 15/06) - Anyone who has walked downtown streets at night would agree that public drunkenness is a problem in Yellowknife. Anyone who has walked down 50th Street in the middle of the day would most likely agree as well.
NNSL Photo/graphic

Mike Lowing, left, and Lea Martin, stand alongside the Community Patrol Services van. It will take to the streets in January, said Lowing. - Erika Sherk/NNSL photo

Soon a van will hit the streets to attempt to deal with the problem.

Two volunteers with Community Patrol Services will patrol city streets from 6 to 11 p.m. on weekends. They will look for obviously drunk people who might need help.

"Intoxicated people on city streets are a very vulnerable demographic group," said Mike Lowing, co-ordinator of the program. "They are susceptible to being assaulted, to falling and injuring themselves, to the elements - being frozen - and often they're not eating enough."

The preventative services provided by the patrol will ease the burden on health services, he said.

"If you can take somebody who may have, if they are intoxicated, fallen and hit their head...the cost of treating their head injury could pay for our program for three years," said Lowing.

Lowing and Lea Martin, the program's senior co-chair, took the van for several test runs in September.

Martin said at one point they picked up a clearly-inebriated elderly man who was wandering the streets. He was from a smaller NWT community, in town for a medical appointment.

"He had no family here, no friends," she said. "He had been sleeping outside for the last few nights."

The two took him to the Salvation Army.

"They kept him sober enough that on Sunday they could take him to the airport and he managed to make it home," said Martin.

Community Patrol Services is a partnership among several groups in the city including the Community Wellness Coalition, the RCMP and city shelters. It is based on a similar program in Anchorage, Alaska.

The idea has been percolating in Yellowknife for about three years now, said Lowing. Insurance woes delayed things considerably, but now the insurance is locked down ($10,000 per year) and the van is ready to roll.

Community Patrol Services will also relieve some of the RCMP's alcohol-related burden, said Insp. Roch Fortin, RCMP representative for the program.

When RCMP gets an alcohol-related call, they will assess the situation.

If there is nothing criminal involved, they will call the CPS volunteers to help the person to a safe place, whether it be the Salvation Army, the Centre for Northern Families, or a friend or family member's house.

Insp. Fortin said he thinks it will help improve people's perception of the city. "People feel that Yellowknife is not as safe as it used to be," he said. "This is one step to bring back the city to its residents."

It's a positive step to dealing with a fairly steady problem, said Martin.

"This will be the first time in my knowledge that we'll be able to address the problem of intoxicated persons on the streets of Yellowknife with a health focus rather than a police focus," said Martin.

The first group of volunteers has been trained, said Lowing, and they should be patrolling the streets by January.