The Calgary Drop-in and Recovery Centre (DI) is getting close to having 35 new recovery oriented care spaces with the capacity to help more than 1,000 people per year on the road to ending drug addiction.
The Government of Alberta provided $450,000 in capital improvement funding for the treatment spaces, allowing the centre to open an initial five detox beds and 10 pre-treatment beds in April.
With the remainder of construction work being completed this month, the DI will have a total of medically supported 15 detox and 20 pre-treatment beds at the start of July.
“This is a much-needed suite of services that we will be offering here, and we know that many of the people that we’re currently working with have the need for these types of services,” said Sandra Clarkson, Executive Director for the Calgary Drop-in and Recovery Centre.
“The beauty is that we can refer people to this floor to this program in the moment when they are ready to make a change.”
She said that it allows for emergency access to spaces that some individuals would otherwise not have access to.
“We recognize that the rate of an impact of addictions and the opioid or toxic drug crisis, really impacting the most vulnerable people that we serve,” Clarkson said.
“We’re able to help support people in instances of a drug poisoning and bring them back essentially to life, which is, of course, an absolutely important part of the puzzle. But now we are actually able to offer more than that, and go beyond that to offer a pathway out of addiction, into recovery, and ultimately into housing.”
Clarkson said that currently, the toxic drug supply is causing large numbers of overdoses in and around the centre.
“The number of overdoses or drug poisonings that we are experiencing in this building on a daily basis is alarming,” she said.
“Between January and April of 2023 alone, 1200 drug poisonings in and around this building, so we know that we need to offer more than just naloxone. We need to help people access a pathway out of addiction into recovery treatment.”
Beds part of a larger continuum of care
Earl Thiessen, Executive Director for Oxford House, and former client of the DI, praised the steps the centre has taken towards helping addicted Calgarians.
“It’s a much-needed service, 100 per cent. It’s the first step because after you actually detox, you have a little bit of clarity and you can make that decision to go into treatment or housing, depending on your experience,” he said.
“I think one of the biggest issues right now in society is recovery—believe it or not, is stigmatized—we need to de-stigmatize recovery and let people know that there is a safe way and supportive way to support people through their recovery journey.”
Thiessen, reflecting on his own experiences as a client of the DI some 18 years earlier, said that the immediate ability to enter into a detox space, or a pre-treatment space opens opportunities for individuals.
“It’s opening up another doorway to help people that are making that choice to get there. This is huge for the city and for the vulnerable population,” he said.
He described what the DI is offering as part of the overall program of recovery that is coming together to help people addicted to drugs.
“I have a saying that I always say, and that is ‘we believe in meeting people where they’re at, but let’s not leave them there,'” Thiessen said.
“We have to support people whichever way they’re going. I developed the whole housing continuum for people that wanted recovery and for people that didn’t.”
Demand for spaces is already seen by Drop-in
Clarkson said that they’ve already seen substantial demand for the use of the beds and that the DI expects to see that demand continue once all of the spaces are open.
When construction is complete, there will be a segregated space on floor five of the Drop-in Centre for medically supported withdrawal management and a second space for recovery transition.
She said that the addition of the beds would not be taking away any space from the shelter, and that capacity within the shelter is not currently an issue.
“We’re an emergency shelter first and foremost, so we anticipate that many of the individuals that are accessing these programs are already in shelter. We’re just moving them to a more intentional program to better meet their needs while they’re here,” Clarkson said.
Clarkson said that ultimately what they are doing is helping one person at a time, and that will translate into larger benefits for the wider community.
“Often the DI is tasked with resolving social disorder in the downtown core, and it’s beyond our capability to do so. So, what we’re focusing on is the people that are accessing services here,” she said.
“My hope and goal is that ideally… word will start to spread that ‘hey, this works, and you should go there.’ It’s one person at a time, right. I’m very grateful and feel very privileged to be able to offer those enhanced services to the people that need them the most in our community.”