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Provincial task force to address Calgary addiction, homeless issues

Calgary Public Safety and Community Response Task Force met on Friday following announcement

The Government of Alberta announced that it was forming a Cabinet task force to address growing issues with crime, addiction, and homelessness within Calgary.

The task force, which met immediately after the announcement on Dec. 16, is assigned with providing immediate recommendations to government as part of a $187 million plan to address homelessness and addiction in the province’s cities, of which $58 million will be going to Calgary.

“These are complicated, complex issues that don’t have easy solutions,” said Minister of Seniors, Community, and Social Services Jeremy Nixon.

“And that’s part of what the importance of this continued work is going to be, is building off of the success of the recommendations that we put in, and figuring out how we best move forward.”

The cabinet portion of the task force will be comprised of Ministers Nixon, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Nicholas Milliken, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis, and Minister for Municipal Affairs Rebecca Schulz.

Reuben Breaker, Councillor Asinaipoka for Siksika Nation, Ward 1 Councillor Sonya Sharp and Ward 10 Councillor Andre Chabot will represent the Calgary region municipalities.

Calgary Fire Department Chief Steve Dongworth, Calgary Police Chief Constable Mark Neufeld, and City of Calgary City Manager David Duckworth will be serving on the task force.

Jodi Two Guns, executive director of social development for Tsuut’ina Nation, Kerry Bales, senior program officer for Provincial Addiction and Mental Health for Alberta Health Services, Tony Pasich, associate executive director for EMS Operations for Alberta Health Services South Zone, and Patricia Jones, Chief Executive Officer for the Calgary Homeless Foundation will also be serving on the task force.

“The list of people I just shared with you is made up of individuals who have daily experience in dealing with individuals facing homelessness, mental health and addictions,” said Minister Nixon.

“We’ve brought community together, we brought layers of government, we brought service providers, we brought indigenous leaders together so that we can work towards addressing these very complex issues.”

Recommendations from the task force will be immediately brought forward, said government officials.

Better treatment options needed said province

Minister Schulz said that the task force meeting on Friday would be addressing what the task force would look like, and what the short-term task force challenges look like.

The solutions needed in each of the province’s major urban centres is unique, she said, requiring unique solutions. She said that this was one of the reasons why Calgary and Edmonton are getting their own respective task forces.

“In terms of the patterns we’re seeing the organizations who are on the ground, the nonprofits who are involved, and just the way different cities manage different aspects of this,” Schulz said.

“And so this is why we have these very specific groups of people pulled together at the community level so that we are able to have some flexibility in how we respond… in a way that matches the needs of that specific community.”

Among the treatment options being explored are increasing treatment capacity with a new recovery community in Calgary, transforming correctional living units into treatment centres, creating hybrid health and police hubs in the downtown core, deploying harm reduction and recovery outreach teams, expanding emergency homeless shelter space, and improving access to affordable housing supports with a drug recovery focus.

The province said that the $58 million for these treatment options is in addition to $73 million in funding for Calgary shelter spaces, and $10 million allocated to addiction treatment spaces.

“There’s obviously a whole continuum of care that we’ve been building up with regards to that with the recovery oriented system of care, which includes everything from aspects of harm reduction to making sure that we build up the capacity of treatment,” said Minister Milliken.

“There’s also other aspects such as reducing user fees so that once people can get into treatment, that they have that opportunity without any sort of a financial issue that that preclude them from being able to do that.”

He addressed questions regarding future supervised consumption sites by stating that model falls under the harm reduction services the province is looking at, and that they’re working with communities to assess where unmet need for sites exists, and whether that model fits into a community.

Minister Milliken also addressed questions regarding involuntary treatment, stating as part of his mandate letter from Premier Danielle Smith, he has been tasked to create recommendations that could include access to health care immediately for those arrested.

“I do have an expectation from the premier to put together some recommendations with regards to that to figure out ways to best intervene with individuals in their addiction. And one of the things that comes to mind is when you have an individual who has overdosed perhaps four times in one day, we don’t really have a very good mechanism to ensuring that we can ensure that that person gets the help that they need or want,” he said.

“So we’re definitely looking at all options to see if we can figure out a way to best help those individuals and save their lives.”

Mayor Gondek, City apprised of task force before hand

Addressing criticism laid by Edmonton’s Mayor that Edmonton’s city council was not made aware of the province task force for that city before hand, Minister Schulz said that the province had discussed the task force with Calgary’s Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

“I would say we have a very good working relationship, she is supportive of this taskforce. But as I said earlier, just given the operational nature, we will loop in the mayors of the major cities when we have points of major decisions that are being made, or announcements that we can make as a result of the task force’s work,” she said.

Mayor Gondek issued a statement regarding the task force, stating that she was pleased to see the they would look at effective and meaningful approaches to creating coordination around delivering services around mental health, addiction, and homelessness in the city.

“Earlier this year, the City of Calgary convened a group of service providers, outreach agencies, downtown businesses, post-secondary institutions, enforcement agencies and other stakeholders to create a collaborative process for assisting Calgarians in positions of vulnerability,” she wrote in a prepared statement.

“As a result, the Government of Alberta recognized the value of investing in this integrated approach to mental health and addiction supports, as well as housing and community safety.”

Minister Schulz said that she would be meeting with the mayor on Friday, following the conclusion of the first task force meeting.