In May 2002, the Kitchener Downtown Business Association recognized that a major community effort was necessary to better understand the problems that were creating a negative public perception of the downtown. A series of meetings with over 50 social services, groups, businesses, neighbourhood representatives and government workers were held to gain insight into the problem. The discussion quickly focused on the fact that the downtown was the home to individuals suffering from homelessness, mental illness, alcohol and/or drug addiction, and often social service agencies could only provide minimal support. It was established that current methods of dealing with these issues were not working, and a new approach was needed.
The Downtown Street Outreach Worker project was devised after two years of work by the Kitchener Downtown Community Collaborative (KDCC) - a group dedicated to providing direction and cohesion to a number of downtown initiatives. This group consists of the Kitchener Downtown Business Association (KDBA), City of Kitchener, The Working Centre and Kitchener Housing. Within this group is a very strong level of operational and management experience, financial control, and on the ground experience.
The goal of this project is to support individuals who are in distress, help people recognize acceptable standards of civic behaviour in the downtown, and provide open ended negotiating to help people access the services that they need.
The program is designed to recognize the tricky balance between individual rights and the needs of the community. In many instances we recognize that being an advocate for the homeless, those afflicted by mental illness or those facing addictions means “helping people deal with their illness” and at the same time being completely willing to address antisocial behaviour. Rather than eliminating the problem the aim is to quell problems through intervention and addressing more than one side of an issue.