Walking towards operational changes

Walkhome faces staff shortages after receiving a spike in walking requests from students

Robin Johannsen, Sci ’12 and night co-ordinator for Walkhome dispatches teams via the radio.
Robin Johannsen, Sci ’12 and night co-ordinator for Walkhome dispatches teams via the radio.
Walkhome staffers are grouped into teams consisting of one male and one female.
Walkhome staffers are grouped into teams consisting of one male and one female.

Johanna Spinner, ArtSci ’13, said she gets nervous about walking home from campus at night.

“You don’t realize how dangerous it is when you’re walking home alone from Stauffer at one in the morning, until you open your queensu.ca email and find another campus security alert,” she said.

Walkhome is a student-run safety service under the AMS that gives students who feel unsafe a way to avoid walking home alone. Staff members form mixed-gender teams to walk fellow students anywhere they need to go.

Walkhome Manager Victoria Harrison said this year there has been an increase in Walkhome requests and the service is struggling to meet a rising demand.

“From September to November, we have given over 5150 walks. This is an increase from last year. At this time last year Walkhome had given over 4450 walks,” she said.

“There have been instances where we don’t have enough teams to match the demand,” she said, adding that she estimates Walkhome averaged around 45 walks per night in September compared to 55 in October.

Harrison said she’s working with Vice-President (Operations) Ben Hartley and Hospitality and Services Director David Chou to re-evaluate Walkhome’s operations.

“It’s really hard to anticipate when the waves are going to come. It’s more a matter of scheduling more teams,” she said, adding that the understaffing Walkhome is experiencing is not necessarily a matter of funding.

“Basically what I’m doing on my end is I’m looking at the trends of when walks tend to happen … and looking to see if I can shuffle around teams to accommodate increase of teams throughout the night,” she said.

Hartley said the best way to manage a spike in the number of Walkhome requests is to increase the number of teams working.

“On nights with a heavy volume of walks, this invariably requires providing students with a cab when teams are not available, an element of the operation Walkhome budgets for every year,” Hartley told the Journal via email. “As our volume of walks increases, so too do our cab costs.

“When we see an increase in walks as we’ve seen this year, it can actually be less expensive for the service to add another team … and this [is] what we’ve done. Not only will we save on costs, but we will also be putting more money back in students’ pockets in the form of wages,” he said, adding that Walkhome is the more used than any similar operation at another universities.

“Even before this year, Walkhome did a disproportionate number of walks relative to all other Canadian campuses.”

Harrison said concerns that Walkhome is understaffed have to do with the operating budget.

“There is a certain amount of money that has been allocated towards paying staff members,” she said. “We can only afford to have so many people working during service hours.”

The increase in minimum wage over the past several years has had an effect on Walkhome’s ability to hire more staff, Harrison said, adding that the number of walks increases annually, due to increased advertising. Frosh week has proven to be an important time of year for Walkhome, as it gives staff an opportunity to reach out to students and assert their presence on campus.

“Around three years ago we started giving out the Walkhome key chains,” she said. “It has made our service more accessible for students who have a constant reminder that Walkhome is an option for them.”

Harrison said November is a particularly busy month for Walkhome.

“November each year tends to be one of our busiest months. This month tends to have more walks because it’s a busy month for tests and assignments, which motivates many more late night library sessions. In November we averaged around 70 walks a night,” she told the Journal via email.

According to Harrison, the increase in calls is normal during this time of year.

‘Each individual has their own reason for using Walkhome and I don’t want to speculate whether or not it is because of the recent attacks that have occurred,” she said.

One such incident occurred on Nov. 4 in the parking lot north of Stauffer Library. A female student was reportedly grabbed by an unknown male. She escaped her attacker unharmed but the suspect was not found.

Harrison said the increase in calls can be attributed to the simple fact that it gets darker much earlier.

Walkhome’s hours of operation are typically Sunday until Wednesday from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m., and extend until 3 a.m. from Thursday to Saturday. As of the middle of October, however, Walkhome began offering services beginning at 6 p.m.

Donna Sly, security awareness co-ordinator at Campus Security, said WalkSafe offers a similar service to Walkhome except remains on campus.

“It’s similar to the Walkhome service except we only provide walks on campus. We don’t travel off campus like Walkhome,” she said. “If Walkhome needs help one night, let’s say they have to deal with a lot more calls than usual on a particular night, then we also provide service for Walkhome.”

Unlike Walkhome, Sly said WalkSafe has not seen the same increase in demand.

WalkSafe has not seen a significant increase in calls over the years, as Walkhome is the main service students use,” she said. “October and November is usually when we experience the most calls, but we associate that with the fact that it gets darker earlier.”

With files from Clare Clancy

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