WHALLEY — The new “SMART” program launched in Surrey late last year has helped 54 at-risk people better their lives, the city’s public safety committee heard Monday.
The program is on track to help 120 people this year, according to Surrey RCMP Insp. Ghalib Bhayani.
The SMART (Surrey Mobilization and Resiliency Table) was launched on Nov. 19, 2015 and sees police team up with provincial, city and social agencies to get help for those involved in non-criminal calls that make up the majority of police incidents.
Once a week the SMART group meets to review cases where there’s a high risk or harm, victimization or criminality for a person or family. If the group deems them at “elevated risk” a response intervention plan is launched within 24 to 48 hours.
It’s about prevention, police say, seeing as over 60 per cent of Surrey RCMP’s average 180,000 calls for service per year deal with social issues such as poverty, substance abuse, homelessness and mental health.
One girl helped through the program so far was 16, six months pregnant, homeless, with addiction issues and living with several older men in a tent on 135A Street, Bhayani told the committee.
“This is a real client,” Bhayani remarked.
“Victimization of emotional and physical violence in the past. Suffering from PTSD. Sexually assaulted when he was young. Poverty. She hasn’t been to school in five or six years. These are the type of people we aim to support… to provide immediate interventions for,” he said. “We want to help this person as much as we can from continuing on this trajectory.”
Bhayani said $1 invested in intervention will save $6 longterm as it relates to involvement in the criminal justice system.
Jodi Sturge, a director with Lookout Emergency Aid Society which runs Surrey’s only emergency and winter shelters, said the collaborative approach has meant better relationships between agencies, and has broken down institutional barriers.
“For instance, we didn’t work with MCFD that often. But allowing this model to come together allowed us to work closely with that ministry. It was also a way for us to provide a more positive interaction to our clients when they have an interaction with police. They weren’t always positive. This collaborative approach allows us to work better as a team,” said Sturge.
“We’re able to connect them with services in a more timely manner,” she remarked. “It’s like connecting the dots. It’s a relaxed, co-ordinated, timely intervention.”
Police anticipate fewer calls for service as a result of the program, and ultimately, expect crime to reduce.
There was talk of this program helping the many refugees in Surrey after government or private funding evaporates a year after arrival.
Mayor Linda Hepner said she’s “proud of the model.”
While the program’s success was touted on Monday, Coun. Bruce Hayne had his concerns.
“I really that we have to start somewhere and Whalley or City Centre is the place that we’re starting. I’ve had requests and comments from both the BIA in Newton and so on that have what they consider to be very, very worthwhile candidates for this table…. Newton needs this as much as Whalley does.”
He said that same 16-year-old girl shouldn’t be denied help simply because she is located in Newton and not Whalley.
The size of Surrey is a significant barrier, responded Bhayani, and they have had to turn people down from area’s outside of Whalley. When possible, they try to bend the rules, he added.
Surrey’s Officer in Charge Bill Fordy said the most significant demand on police is from Whalley, which is why the SMART program is based there right now. He added programs in other areas could be considered.
“We are open to expansion,” Fordy said. “The challenge with that will be having different partners at the table.”
The SMART program in Surrey was modelled after a “hub” that originated in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in 2011. It is now used by 55 Canadian jurisdictions. Surrey’s is the 56th in Canada, but the first in B.C.
-With files from the Province.