Winnipeg’s Community Safety Hosts program is an alternative to traditional police and security services that’s rooted in community support, empathy and training.
These safety hosts are trained in trauma-informed care and Indigenous kinship practices to help create safe and accessible environments in spaces like libraries and emergency shelters. Part of their role involves sharing information about social supports, including rental-assistance programs and housing services.
Hosts work at ACCESS Downtown, Just a Warm Sleep (1JustCity’s overnight warming centre), the Millennium Library and with the provincial Department of Families.
Andreas Bremer-Boreski started working as a community safety host at the Just a Warm Sleep shelter in November. He says he was drawn to the program because of the difference hosts can make in the community.
“We’re people who just want to love people,” he says. Bremer-Boreski has also worked with Impact Security and the Sabe Peace Walkers, but, he says, “no other organization that I’ve ever been with has offered this much training.”
Specifically, this training helps Bremer-Boreski address situations in loving and positive ways. “We have a lot of training in psychological first aid in recognizing when someone is going through a particular crisis and what they might need,” he says.
Community safety hosts submit daily reports at the end of each shift to track situations they encounter and how any issues are resolved. Over the past 17 months, these reports have shown an 83.3 per cent successful de-escalation rate.
Fearless R2W, an organization that helps people exiting the child-welfare system, leads the program, which also partners with the North End Community Renewal Corporation and the Winnipeg Public Library. Persons Community Solutions (PCS), a social enterprise focused on community safety, partnered with the Community Safety Hosts program in 2020.
Daniel Waycik, co-founder and director of operations at PCS, says the program was created as an employment opportunity for people exiting the child-welfare system and to address accessibility concerns when the Millennium Library introduced increased security measures in 2019.
The Winnipeg Foundation, Community Foundations of Canada and TD Bank funded the first cohort of program graduates. Now, the PCS board provides 75 per cent of the program’s funding, while the Winnipeg Public Library board covers 25 per cent.
In July 2021, three hosts completed the training and graduated from the program, which currently employs 21 hosts. Community safety hosts receive an additional 130 hours of training on top of the mandatory 40-hour Manitoba Security Guard Training Program.
Specifically, they receive training in family advocacy, nonviolent conflict intervention, harm reduction, trauma-informed care, first aid, CPR, AED use, communication, defensive procedures and suicide intervention.
However, despite the program’s positive results, Waycik says PCS never planned to have this many community safety hosts.
“It’s a bit financially debilitating,” Waycik says. “We wouldn’t have done this push if we weren’t given such clear indicators that the City of Winnipeg wanted safety hosts in libraries at this point in time.”
The City of Winnipeg has yet to provide any funding for the program, despite being part of its working group and asking for the increased number of community safety hosts.
Published in Volume 77, Number 24 of The Uniter (March 30, 2023)