Night crew starts reaching out

Red backpacks secured tightly, Megan Grudeski and Britney Smith begin their night on downtown Gaetz Avenue or “the strip” in Red Deer.



Red backpacks secured tightly, Megan Grudeski and Britney Smith begin their night on downtown Gaetz Avenue or “the strip” in Red Deer.

They walk for less than 10 minutes before they meet the first client.

A tattered-looking man who arms are laden with tattoos recognized the red backpacks.

The young man, who appears to be in his early 20s, asks for a light.

Smith hands over a pack of matches and a business card.

“Call us if you ever need matches again or anything,” says Grudeski.

Smith writes down his first name, gender, demographic (homeless, sex worker, user etc), supplies distributed and birth year in the log book.

In less than an hour, the duo have handed out harm reduction supplies to a prostitute and a drug user.

They chatted and gave gloves to the homeless and made plans to walk a transient man to the Greyhound bus station.

Grudeski and Smith are NightReach workers.

Every evening, two out of the six NightReach workers spend four to five hours in the downtown core providing support in the way of supplies, face-to-face referrals for housing, treatments, counselling etc, hospital visits and safe walks to the street-involved community.

The Central Alberta AIDS Network Society (CAANS) has operated the program since August 2010.

Ashley Fleming, CAANS’ NightReach program manager, said the night-time staff are the link between night and day.

Fleming said there is no outreach or support available after regular business hours to the street community other than the police or emergency services.

“People do go into crisis after 5 o’clock on Friday and before 9 a.m. on Mondays,” said Fleming. “We are there to be support in the moment and … have an emergency plan in place when the other agencies are opened. We can then be the transition from evening to day.”

The NightReach program is based on a harm reduction strategy of “meeting people where they are at.” Fleming said if their clients are involved in a risky activity, they want to ensure the clients are safe as possible while they are doing it.

“For us, harm reduction is providing supplies to inject drugs more safely, to inhale drugs more safely and to have sex more safely,” said Fleming. “That’s condoms, female condoms, clean needles, stems.”

The street population in Red Deer have come to identify and respect the outreach workers. They might not know the NightReach staff by name but they recognize the red backpack.

It’s not uncommon for NightReach to hear someone shout, “Hey, red backpack,” as they make their rounds on downtown city streets, parks, shelters and bridges.

Such was the case on Friday night when Hilary Gouda, 19, flagged down Grudeski and Smith on their way to McDonalds, a spot where the street community often frequents.

Gouda stops the NightReach to chat and they continue together to the restaurant. Gouda said she has been in and out of foster care and group homes all her life until she was 16 when she decided to “get out of the system.”

She has been homeless for about three years and has battled alcoholism for about seven. Gouda said she has tried to get sober and has gone through detox and treatment programs.

“I want to have my own place,” said Gouda, while sitting at the restaurant. “I want to go back to school. My addiction gets the best of me. I’m a little stuck.”

Grudeski said the NightReach workers are able to connect people with services and other agencies that offer detox treatments and other addiction services above and beyond what they are able to do.

Fleming added there is a street population in Red Deer that wants to be safe. CAANS provides clean needles that people can return when they are used. The needles can be disposed in needle drop boxes in the community or at the CAANS office.

She said the provincial return rate for needles is about 50 per cent.

“Our return rate is 80 per cent so that shows me the people in our community who are injecting drugs really care,” said Fleming. “So they want to come. They want to be safer. They want to use clean materials. So we are here to provide that resource and make sure that happens.”

Just Posted

Envisioned exterior of the future Red Deer Aquatic Centre, by GEC Architects. Council determined Monday that it will eventually be built on the Michener North site, off 30th Avenue. (Contributed image).
Red Deer’s aquatic centre will be built on Michener North site

Rotary Recreation Rark has too many space constraints, most councillors decided

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has advised that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be used interchangeably for second doses and Alberta is following that approach. (File photo by The Canadian Press)
Red Deer down to 66 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer has lowest number of active cases since last November

(Advocate file photo).
Red Deer drivers warned about temporary lane closure on 67th Street

Power line will be rebuilt in six-month project

Black Horse Singers performed for students at Ecole la Prairie on Monday. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Students remind Red Deer that every child matters on National Indigenous Day

Heart-shaped messages to decorate trees at Ecole la Prairie through the summer

Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson, center, tries to get position for a shot against New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) during the second period in Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 21, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Stamkos, Vasilevskiy pace Lightning’s 8-0 rout of Islanders

Lightning 8 Islanders 0 (Tampa Bay leads series 3-2) TAMPA, Fla. —… Continue reading

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he’s ‘convinced’ the city will be able to get rid of the mandatory mask bylaw in July. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
‘Made in Calgary’ approach will keep mask requirements past Alberta’s total reopening

Calgary won’t be following provincial recommendations on the mandatory wearing of masks… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a debate in the House of Commons, in Ottawa, Tuesday, June 1, 2021. Parliamentarians are entering what could be their final stretch in the House of Commons before it breaks for summer as the Liberal government sharpens its focus around two key pieces of legislation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Liberals, opposition clash with days left to pass legislation before House rises

OTTAWA — Parliamentarians are in their final week before a summer break… Continue reading

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border measures start easing in July for fully vaccinated Canadians

OTTAWA — Fully vaccinated Canadians returning to Canada will soon be able… Continue reading

The home of Lionel and Shanna Desmond in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., is shown in this undated police handout aerial photo. An inquiry investigating why a former Canadian soldier killed his family and himself in 2017 heard today from a relative who said Lionel Desmond's mental health appeared stable after he served in Afghanistan in 2007, but there was a dramatic decline over the next 10 years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Lionel Desmond Fatality Inquiry
Lionel Desmond inquiry: soldier’s sister-in-law testifies about his mental decline

PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — An inquiry investigating why a former Canadian soldier… Continue reading

People look over the damage after a tornado touched down in Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal, Monday, June 21, 2021. Dozens of homes were damaged and one death has been confirmed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
One dead and extensive damage as tornado hits Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal

MONTREAL — One person was killed after a tornado struck Mascouche, Que.,… Continue reading

President of the Public Health Agency of Canada Iain Stewart, right, approaches the bar in the House of Commons to be admonished by the Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, June 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
PHAC president rebuked, still doesn’t produce documents on fired scientists

OTTAWA — The Conservatives are asking that the Public Health Agency of… Continue reading

Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks (24) gestures to teammates during the first half of Game 5 of their NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Salt Lake City.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Rick Bowmer
After months of speculation, Canada’s men’s basketball roster set ahead of qualifier

With a tantalizingly deep pool of talent, Canada’s men’s basketball roster has… Continue reading

Most Read