Community Outreach Transit Team – an eye for safety and a heart for Edmonton’s vulnerable

There are a lot of words that can be used to describe the good work of the new Community Outreach Transit Team. These are seven from the heart of Edmontonian Jackie Ruether: 

“They saved my life,” Ruether said. “They’re my angels.” 

Last fall, members of the outreach team found Ruether in an unsafe condition, sleeping near the Stadium LRT Station. They helped get her to a recovery home.

“I’ve been there ever since,” she said. “I’ve been clean.”

Partnership with Bent Arrow

The Community Outreach Transit Team, or COTT for short, is a partnership between the City of Edmonton and Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society. Together, a transit peace officer and a Bent Arrow outreach worker patrol transit facilities with an eye, an ear and a heart for the needs of vulnerable Edmontonians.

Team members connect individuals to resources to address concerns such as housing, mental health or addictions. They focus on building trust and relationships that help people work towards long-term solutions, even if there’s not interest at the beginning. 

 “We let them know who we are, what we do and, hopefully, create some type of an opening for later on down the road where they can say, ‘Hey that’s Rob, or, ‘Hey, that’s Wes, flag us down to be, like, ‘Hey man, we’re interested in talking about housing or counselling today,’” said Wesley Mcconnell, a Transit Peace Officer with the Community Outreach Transit Team.

Adnan/Hassan with Community Outreach Transit Team partners, December 2021.

Adnan’s story

Adnan Jamal is one Edmontonian who has benefited from that bigger-picture approach. 

Last November, COTT members Kokilan Thamilselvan (Transit Peace Officer) and Mariah Eshkakogan (Bent Arrow Outreach Worker) came across Jamal who had been experiencing homelessness for about three years. He bounced around the system as he tried to access services.

“I reached out to her once and they just kept me in place and kept me in check and they called me like, at least once a week just to make sure that everything’s good,” he said. “Now, the goals that I had last year are completely different to the goals that I have this year.”

Having gained Jamal’s trust,  the Community Outreach Transit Team did some other things. They helped him with the paperwork for a tax refund, helped him get into bridge housing and helped him find a driving instructor. He paid outstanding fines, he paid for a driver’s test and he paid for a car. 

Adnan/Hassan with Eshkakogan, left, and Thamilselvan.

Meeting people where they’re at

Whether the team offers support for addictions, housing, health, counselling or family connections, it’s their mission to meet people where they’re at. 

“Doing outreach on transit and meeting people where they’re at, it’s more effective,” said Eshkakogan of Bent Arrow.  “You get them at their vulnerable stages when they’re having a bad day or they need a place to stay or need a place to sleep. And I feel like transit at times are those hotspots where people like to come.” 

Jenna Pilot, who is the City of Edmonton’s Acting Director of Safe and Healthy Communities, said everybody’s safety is everybody’s business. 

“Every single Edmontonian has a part to play in ensuring that everybody is safe and that everybody has access to basic needs and has access to supports and services that they need in order to maintain a good quality of life,” said Pilot.

Watch the Community Outreach Transit Team and the Edmontonians they serve: