Community ambassador program launched on International Avenue
Wearing bright purple jackets, carrying first aid and naloxone kits, community ambassadors are out along International Avenue looking to meet people in the community.
“Really I want to make connections with businesses and people on the street,” said ambassador Carmen Poon.
The east Calgary ambassador helper program launched in the spring with enough money from federal funding for two ambassadors.
The goal is to create a safe and vibrant environment while also connecting people to social services they need. The ambassadors have gone through extensive training including for opioid poisoning and suicide prevention.
“With a planning background for me it’s really about understanding the spaces we live in…that are not private buildings," said ambassador Ivan Osorio.
"It’s these open parks and streets and sidewalks, all those spaces where life really goes on how can we make that better for everyone,” .
Osorio and Poon also both speak Spanish which they say helps bridge cultural and language barriers.
The outreach program is a collaboration between the International Avenue BRZ and 12 Community Safety Initiative, which is a crime prevention group.
“One of their main aspects is to really let people know about all the good things you can find out here. There’s over 425 businesses within 35 blocks,” said Alison Karim-McSwiney, the executive director of International Avenue BRZ.
Karim-McSwiney said the ambassadors are there to welcome people to 17th Avenue SE and offer neighbourly help, such as providing directions or pointing out hidden gems.
But they are also there to help make connections on the street and connect people to social services they need.
Karim-McSwiney said there has been an increase of people experiencing homelessness over the past four years.
“What we’ve found recently particularly with COVID-19 is there’s been a real tipping point that’s happened out here. We’re seeing significant amount of social disorder that we haven’t been seeing before,” said Karim-McSwiney.
“There’s a lot of people that are living rough in the area and as a result we’re trying to help them to essentially get off the street and be connected with services.”
Karim-McSwiney said the plan is to hire two more ambassadors in the fall, when the source of funding will come from a city grant.