Editorial: Demands on services in Thompson growing

At the Jan. 9 public safety committee meeting, Sgt. Chris Hastie, the acting officer-in-charge for the Thompson RCMP detachment, noted that the number of calls the Thompson police officers handled last year was 20,8000, about 400 calls per week. In 2018, the total was more than 2,000 fewer – 18,367 – which means that the detachment dealt with nearly seven more calls per day every day than they did the previous year.

Thompson Fire & Emergency Services (TFES) Chief Mike Bourgon told the committee members that firefighters and paramedics responded to 6,616 ambulance calls and 727 fire calls in 2019. The number of ambulance calls was actually down 33 from the total in 2018, but the number of fire calls went up, from 617 in 2018 to 727 last year, an increase of nearly 18 per cent. There was an even bigger jump in the number of multiple calls, when more than one unit is out on a call at the same time, from 2,383 in 2018 to 3,263 in 2019, an increase of about 37 per cent. In all three categories – ambulance, fire and multiple deployments – the numbers of calls received last year is up significantly over 5, 10 and 20 years ago too. The only year since 1997 with more ambulance responses than last year was 2018, while 2019 also marked the only time in that 23-year span that TFES has responded to more than 700 fire calls in a year, falling just shy of two fire calls per day.

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The Thompson Homeless Shelter, which receives the majority of its funding from the provincial and federal governments and only about $20,000 from the city, has been turning more people away because it is at capacity every month since September. A few years ago, the cold weather policy was barely being used because the shelter was not at capacity, thanks to Project Northern Doorway, which worked to get chronically homeless people off the streets and into permanent shelter, whether it was at the 95 Cree Road facility or by finding them apartments to rent around town.

Needless to say, Thompson doesn’t really have extra money to spend providing these services at a time when Vale is going to contribute only $3 million to city coffers in the form of its grant-in-lieu of property tax payments. A few years ago, that number was $6 million.

While the municipal government does have a responsibility to come up with its own ways of funding the services it provides, the mayor and council do have a point when it comes to appealing to the provincial and sometimes federal governments for additional funding, be it for operational costs or infrastructure. A significant portion of policing is targeted not at people who live in Thompson, but who come to the city for short stays and end up in altercations, often as a result of alcohol. Quite likely, ambulances respond to a large number of calls involving out-of-town residents. Many of the people who make use of the homeless shelter’s services have come to the community from elsewhere.

The increased demands on services in the city in 2019 may be a one-time blip, but it could also be evidence of a trend that will continue and possibly even accelerate in the future. If that is the case, at some point the demand it going to outstrip agencies’ abilities to respond when called upon. Concrete plans to deal with higher demand for various services need to be in place before the situation gets dire.

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