No Place To Go

VCC latest report examines social disorder on Calgary transit 

28 May 2024

Today, VCC released its latest report examining social disorder on Calgary’s transit system. 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 outreach staff to understand the factors contributing to social disorder. So, what did we discover? Here are the top things to know about No Place to Go

Homeless shelters are perceived as unsafe, so unhoused people are sleeping rough or in public spaces. 

When we looked at the data, encampment sleeping has gone up by about 410%. We wanted to understand why. The Calgary police officers and transit peace officers we interviewed said that unhoused people do not want to go to the shelters. This was for a variety of reasons, but theft, assaults, and rape were mentioned as some of the top reasons. 

Deaths from unintentional opioid poisoning are happening more in public spaces because there’s a better chance of being discovered if an emergency happens. 

Data collected from the Alberta Substance Use Surveillance System shows last year public spaces have become the primary location of unintentional opioid-poisoning deaths in Calgary. This has shifted from previous years. The number of deaths due to unintentional substance use also increased by 186% from 2016 to 2023. 

Frontline police, transit and community outreach staff are experiencing trauma due to exposure to substance-related injury and deaths.  

The opioid crisis is taking an emotional toll on those working on the frontlines. The introduction of teams like the Community Outreach Team (COT) are helping because they offer mental health support, trauma-informed approaches, and can connect people to other social services.  The problem is they do not operate 24/7. More treatment spaces are needed for both harm reduction and abstinence-based recovery. 

There is no relationship between adding more police and reducing crime. 

A commonly held belief is that increased police presence is an effective crime and social disorder prevention strategy. In a review of almost 60 studies, we discovered a negative association between police presence and crime rates.  

All too often it’s all about the numbers or statistics, but behind the numbers are people. People serving on the frontlines like community outreach workers and police; and people who are struggling with homelessness. It’s their perspectives that helped shape the five policy recommendations outlined in the study. Their perspectives and quotes may be uncomfortable to read, but that’s how we learn, grow, and make things better. 

No Place To Go 

Intersecting housing affordability and addiction crises are impacting safety in Calgary. Read our new study examining homelessness and social disorder as it relates to public transit in Calgary.