Advocate file photo.

Growing drug-fuelled emergencies at Red Deer’s Buffalo transitional housing complex

City council approves two additional mental health staffers at complex

An unprecedented increase in crystal meth and fentanyl use is causing unforeseen safety concerns within the transitional Buffalo Housing First complex in downtown Red Deer.

Red Deer City Council heard that Buffalo staff are often pulled in different directions by having to respond to multiple drug-fuelled crises at the same time. This is causing high staff turnover and safety concerns, said Sandi Chalmers, a member of the city’s community housing advisory board.

Council was asked on Monday to approve two additional mental health worker to supervise at the Buffalo complex. Having these extra staffers on the evening and night shifts will prevent “danger“ to staff and tenants, added Chalmers, who asked that $130,118 of provincial Outreach and Support Services Initiative funding be allocated for these additional salaries.

She blamed an “unprecedented” increase in crystal meth and fentanyl addiction for causing more emergency situations at the Buffalo.

While Coun. Lawrence Lee did not doubt more staff were needed to protect the interest of the city’s most vulnerable residents, he did question whether the city should be responsible for funding these salaries through the provincial outreach dollars it receives. Lee suggested the money should come directly from the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Chalmers responded that when the CHMA was first planning staff requirements at the Buffalo hotel, the scope of the local drug problem was unforeseen.

Coun. Vesna Higham wondered whether more could be done to get a commitment from tenants at the Buffalo that they would seek help for their substance abuse problems?

Councillors Dianne Wyntjes and Ken Johnston spoke in favour of the city using provincial funds to cover these salaries. The crises “cannot be rectified by the status quo,” said Johnston.

It’s for their physical well-being and mental health, said Wyntjes.

Coun. Michael Dawe said the Buffalo transitional accommodation, which is used to get people off the street and eventually into more permanent housing, is very important to the community and should not be risked by under-staffing. Better long-term solution could certainly be sought in the meantime, he added.

City council voted in favour of the money allocation, except for Lee who was opposed.

Council also approved some bridge funding — to come out of a one-time surplus of provincial dollars caused by a program folding early — to cover a lapse between when one homelessness program ends and another begins. This money will continue to provide stable funding to 18 local groups and programs that would otherwise be affected.

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