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New study from Vibrant Communities Calgary reveals the link between social disorders and public transportation

Vibrant Communities Calgary (VCC), in collaboration with researchers from the University of Calgary and Dr. Nick Falvo, an expert on housing and homelessness, published a study examining social disorder as it relates to public transportation in Calgary, Alberta.

The study, No Place to Go, examines more than 160 research papers, data on social disorder at train stations and deaths from substance use, and interviews shelter clients, transit workers, police officers and community workers to understand the factors that contribute to social disorder.

“As our communities grapple with intersecting housing, affordability and addiction crises, this study sheds light on critical issues impacting public safety and the urgent need for solutions. While some solutions take time and systemic changes, it all starts with ensuring stable housing so more and more people don’t become homeless,” said Meaghon Reid, VCC Executive Director.

Key highlights of the study:

  • In Calgary, unintentional acute deaths due to substance use increased by 186 per cent between 2016 and 2023.
  • Public spaces, including public transportation, have become prime locations for unintentional opioid poisoning incidents. Individuals struggling with addiction often choose to use drugs in public because they believe they are more likely to be discovered if they experience a medical emergency.
  • Some homeless shelters are perceived as unsafe by both police and transit peace officers interviewed. The number of sleeping places in encampments increased fivefold in Calgary between 2018 and 2023.
  • Police, transit officers and community workers experience trauma on the front lines due to exposure to overdose deaths, which are becoming increasingly common.
  • Despite their efforts, police often struggle to connect individuals with medical care (addiction and mental health care) when they are transported to hospitals due to a lack of treatment options.
  • There is no relationship between adding more police and reducing crime. The research reviewed shows that increased policing is a short-term solution at best.
  • Five Calgary stations stand out as hotspots for social disorder: Chinook, City Hall/Bow Valley College, Marlborough and Victoria Park.

The report recommends investments in emergency shelter space in the form of design improvements to existing facilities, increasing accessibility at all times rather than just at night and creating daytime options. It also recommends that investments in treatment, harm reduction and medical respite for people experiencing homelessness, as well as more coordinated street action are needed. Well-funded, affordable supportive housing programs for vulnerable people were also recommended to improve social disorder in public spaces.

“It’s all too often about the numbers, the statistics, but behind the numbers there are people. People serving on the front lines, such as community workers and police, and those struggling with homelessness. Their perspectives and quotes may be uncomfortable to read, but that’s how we learn and grow and hopefully make things better,” said Lee Stevens, co-author of the study.

“It’s clear that people experiencing homelessness need places to go during the day. Even as we work on long-term solutions like housing, more options are in everyone’s best interest,” Falvo said.

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