For this past week’s meeting about an increase in violent crime in Bay Ward our team decided to use a different format: a community forum with information booths from multiple community partners.
We had promised to hold a meeting that would provide information to residents about what service providers, organizations and groups were doing to make our community a safer place.
Many of those same partners had attended a closed-door meeting in December after three shooting incidents happened in the span of about two weeks.
Shots were fired on November 26, December 4 and December 10, all at separate locations on Penny Drive. In two of the cases the shots were directed at homes. In the other incident two people were injured.
Of 49 shootings in 2014, a record high for Ottawa, five took place in Bay Ward and a sixth on January 10, 2015. Of those six shootings two were on Riga Private, one on Ritchie Street and the three above on Penny Drive.
In nearly every instance police have been clear that there is a gang element.
But that isn’t exclusive to these communities or to Bay Ward.
The other 43 shootings took place across the city. Barrhaven, Kanata, Vanier, Overbrook, South Keys, Alta Vista, Sandy Hill, Lowertown, Carlington, Nepean and more. This week a shooting in the south end of the city left a 27-year-old dead.
It’s very clear that this isn’t a Bay Ward problem.
But at Tuesday night’s meeting residents learned that there could be a Bay Ward solution; one that could inform other community-based solutions across the city.
The format was designed to show residents in attendance that they are an integral part of that solution and that without their engagement and willingness to participate in solving the problem it will not go away.
The partners were there to answer questions and take feedback directly from residents about what they are currently doing and about what new measures they have committed to taking within our community. In one-on-one or smaller conversations residents were able to be more honest about their problems and the situations they find themselves in and in turn, particularly when it came to members of the Ottawa Police Service, the partners were more open as well.
Take as one example an exchange between a woman who had fears her son may be gang-involved and a police officer. The pair was able to have a productive conversation and come up with the beginnings of an action plan. That outcome would have never been reached if the woman had been forced to reveal personal information in front of a large group.
I’ll pull another example from a conversation I myself had with three women who were, at first, critical of the format. They wanted to know why there wasn’t a formal, concrete plan being presented. I explained that this kind of problem is so complex that one plan isn’t going to solve it. I was able to point them to homework and employment programs, policing initiatives, new cameras from Ottawa Community Housing, better engagement with ByLaw Services and a dozen other programs taking place in our community that, together, form a cohesive approach to tackling the gang problem. The women left assured that the community was working together on this issue and that they could play a role, too.
That was the whole point.
There were many people there who were not pleased with the format. They would have preferred a town hall with service providers at the front of the room and community members seated in the audience asking questions and shouting criticisms.
The only purpose that kind of format serves is to create a barrier, an “us versus them” mentality. It serves only to allow residents to ask “what are you doing for me” instead of “how can I help?”
Those kinds of meetings don’t work.
So, we tried something different and it seemed to work well. All around the room there were conversations going on, people learning from each other, people sharing perspectives and people being unafraid to be honest.
What I learned from Tuesday’s event is that if you give people the chance to work collaboratively they will. It was also a wake-up call for me that so few people knew about existing programs already making a difference in the lives of people in our community and across Ottawa.
What I hope those in attendance have learned is that they can play a role in solving our city’s gang problem.
And you, dear reader, can help, too.
Volunteer. Donate. Advocate. If you own a business employ people from your neighbourhood. There are so many ways to get involved and to participate in the solution.
Find the one that excites you and join us in making Ottawa even better.