Visitors to Prince George’s downtown area may have noticed some friendly people in high-visibility vests walking the streets over the past few weeks.
Last month, the City of Prince George implemented the pilot Downtown Host Team Initiative to help to foster a safe, positive atmosphere for downtown businesses, residents, workers, and all who visit the area. The Downtown Host Team Initiative is a partnership involving the City, Tourism Prince George, BC Housing, and the Association for Advocating for Women and Children (AWAC).
The program involves contracted security personnel, tourism ambassadors, and outreach workers working regularly scheduled four-hour shifts from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday, to connect people to services, welcome visitors and tourists, and build relationships within the downtown community. The ambassadors are also supported by the city’s service centre, the RCMP, Tourism PG, and Downtown Prince George.
“This pilot program stems from council’s priorities and strategies relating to ensuring an inclusive, safe community, advancing progress in the downtown, and providing growth and development opportunities for the area,” said Chris Bone, Manager of Social Development for the City of Prince George, said in a press release. “This is an example of a great collaboration among the participating organizations. Each has a vested interest in ensuring a positive and safe experience for all who visit, live, or work in the downtown.”
In the program, Tourism PG staff field questions from visitors and tourists to the area, while outreach staff from AWAC try to connect people who need help to food, housing, and health services. Security staff monitor for problem behaviour and, if necessary, report it to the police.
“Tourism Prince George is pleased to have a dedicated Tourism Ambassador to act as another touch point for visitor services outside of the Visitor Centre. The Tourism Ambassador is able to provide visitors with information about local events, maps and directions, and dining and shopping recommendations in the City in a mobile capacity,” said Erica Hummel, CEO of Tourism Prince George. “This is an additional visitor service Tourism Prince George can provide to ensure our visitors are getting the best possible experience while exploring our city.”
All program participants receive training and orientation from the City of Prince George which includes the scope of their duties, non-violent intervention skills, tourism resources and referrals, and protocols for contacting the RCMP. AWAC provides its own workers, while Tourism Prince George provides its own participating staff. The City of Prince George is providing the funding for the security personnel at a cost of roughly $15,000 for the duration of the program.
“AWAC is proud to support the city and the host program. It’s an opportunity not only to build relationships with the downtown community, but to continue to provide support services to individuals who are on the street,” said Connie Abe, Executive Director of AWAC. “It also gives AWAC an opportunity to connect with individuals who may not know of the services we provide such as accessing food, housing, and health services.”
The pilot period began on July 10 and will last until September 10. Participants are collecting qualitative and quantitative data and recording incidents and interactions with downtown visitors and residents. A program review will be conducted this fall, which will be followed by a decision on whether to continue the program next summer.