The provincial government announced millions for Calgary’s Drop-in Centre on Wednesday, cash to expand medical detox and recovery capacity alongside the creation of dynamic overdose response teams.
The funding, which amounts to $4 million for 2023, includes $2.2 million for 15 detox and 20 pre-treatment beds, $1.6 million for dynamic overdose response, and $450,000 in capital improvements.
“One of the things that’s really important when working with vulnerable people is we know we need to bring the services to where they are at,” said Sandra Clarkson, CEO of the Calgary Drop-in Centre.
“So having those services readily available on-site, we can help make those changes and guide people in the moment when they’re ready.”
Clarkson said that the DI expects immediate uptake in the program, once the capital improvements to the DI building are complete.
The treatment program will be provided in a separate part of the DI building away from the emergency shelter. Rooms will be segregated, and beds will be assigned to individual patients during their stay in the program.
DI renewed lease early to make program possible
Clarkson told LWC that the Drop-in Centre utilized the renewal clause in their lease contract with the City of Calgary in order to take advantage of the capital improvement funding for the centre.
She said that the community interest in that renewal has been small.
“We really haven’t had many inquiries around that,” she said.
“Our goal is that we continue to develop and innovate our services so that ultimately at one point in time, I’m hoping that the number of emergency beds that we’re offering is the smallest component of the services that we’re we’re operating on at that facility.”
She said that there was a possibility of a negative community reaction to the program, like the one that followed the announcement and subsequent cancellation of a supervised consumption site at the facility.
“We’re hopeful that the community will see the benefit that these programs bring because this ultimately is geared towards a long-term solution in ending people’s experience with homelessness,” Clarkson said.
Overdose response team details in the works
The dynamic overdose response team plan is to work with paramedics, first responders, and community support groups to provide overdose response at the DI and in the surrounding community.
“The primary goal for this service is to keep our communities safe while continuing to treat addiction as healthcare issues at both the DI and the surrounding community,” said Nicholas Milliken, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction.
Clarkson said the details are still being worked out, but that paramedics will be on site 24 hours a day alongside other specialized health service providers to provide care and oversight for individuals at risk of overdosing.
“What we’re trying to do all around is triage people to certain different types of programs and services within the building to better meet their individual needs, as opposed to a one size fits all and hope you figure it out type thing,” she said.
An exact timeline for when this would be implemented wasn’t yet available due to the number of different organizations involved, Clarkson said.
Improvements to downtown Fire Department response a possible result
Calgary Fire Department Chief Steve Dongworth said that the improvements to mental health and addictions issues at the DI were likely to translate into better capacity for non-medical related calls in the downtown.
The downtown, he said, has over 9,000 calls for service per year with 63 per cent of those medically related. According to data from the City of Calgary, the highest density of calls for SE Calgary, which includes the DI and the East Village, occurred in the area surrounding the DI.
“We are on the front line of the current things that the city is seeing as far as addictions and mental health,” said Chief Dongworth.
“We see a ton of calls within hundreds of meters of the DI, and it’s a very busy part of the city for us. So I like to say it’s a help to our people to see that opportunity for these folks to get help… eventually, if this has a true impact on the number of people experiencing addictions, it may actually decrease our call volume in that area.”
He said that one of the effects the program would have, beyond helping those suffering from addiction, would be to reduce the trauma that first responders face responding to emergency calls.
“These are the kind of situations that our folks struggle with. It’s a difficult thing to see people, particularly when it’s time and time again, in such despair,” the Chief said.