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The Alex to operate new mobile crisis response team pilot project in East Calgary

The 12-month pilot project will focus on Calgary police District 4 in East Calgary.

Alex Community Health Centre CEO Joy Bowen-Eyre called it a game changer.

It’s a new, 12-month pilot project for a mobile community crisis response team funded by the City of Calgary and the Calgary Police Service and operated by the Alex.

Those two-person teams will consist of support workers and will respond to non-emergency calls that come in through Calgary 911 and the Distress Centre (211).

It will initially be deployed in District 4 in east Calgary. It’s an area that doesn’t have the highest call volume, but it does have average to high numbers of mental health related calls. It’s also a smaller area, allowing for easier transportation to calls and better response times.  

For the first three- to-six months, the support teams will be supported by plain-clothed sworn members of the CPS. The partnership also involves Alberta Health Services and the Alpha House.

“We believe the community mobile crisis response program will serve to reduce existing barriers and systemic stigma often associated with crisis response,” said Bowen-Eyre.

“We will provide a service that is trauma informed, equity-based and person centered.”

It will initially be one team, operating Wednesdays to Sundays, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. The second phase of the pilot will be to have it a 24/7 service, said the Alex’s Associate Director, Mental Health, Addictions and Outreach, Jennifer Eyford.

The team will be either a nurse or social worker and someone with hands on experience or lived experience. That’s an important aspect of this program, Eyford said.

“We understand that this pilot can be successful if we’re able to connect to the, people connect to our community,” she said.

Change in police response

Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld said this is a substantial change from how these calls are managed today. He said they’ve listened to the community desire for a different call response model.

“We recognize that uniformed police officers aren’t always the best option for those experiencing mental health or addictions crisis,” he said.  

“However, police have become the default response for those in the community, particularly outside of regular business hours and into the weekends.”

Now, a call will come into Calgary 911 or the Distress Centre and will be triaged for safety before the new mobile team can be dispatched to the call. One of the gaps determined in their crisis response system was peer support and the need for a multidisciplinary approach.

“The goal is to integrate all elements of the crisis response ecosystem, so that calls could transition seamlessly between service providers, as necessary, to ensure we get the right response to the right people at the right time and in the right location, to make the most of that response, and to have the greatest possible impact that we can have,” said Chief Neufeld.

Further investment will be there: Mayor Gondek

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said this was a massive step forward for response in the city.

“Anytime that you can have this kind of collaboration in responding to crisis times. It’s a very big deal,” she said.

The cost of the pilot is $2.5 million, to be funded from the contributions to the Community Safety Investment Framework. That’s the pool created with funds committed from the City and CPS to create a different call response model.  

Should the project be successful and there’s a desire to expand it across the city, more funding would be required.

The mayor said she believes the investment will be there. To this point, they’ve been acting as a convener to getting the groups together. It makes sense to keep supporting this work.  

“We’re absolutely committed to investing the money we need to even more importantly, we convinced our provincial colleagues that they needed to join in that investment,” she said.

The Alex still needs to hire for the program, and it’s anticipated it will be ready to roll out in a few weeks.