Christine Stewart, executive director with Canadian Mental Health Association, Central Region, hopes the new facility to replace the Buffalo will be built by next December. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)

More supports for homeless needed for Red Deer

Provincial funding recently announced for Lethbridge

Red Deer community groups are hoping the city is next in line for provincial funding to assist homeless and addicted citizens during the opioid crisis.

Lethbridge has received $11 million for a new permanent supportive housing facility for 42 homeless adults with complex issues such as substance abuse.

For 11 years, the Buffalo has been Red Deer’s largest housing-first project providing permanent supportive accommodation to 39 people. The Canadian Mental Health Association Central-Alberta Region provides services to the hard-to-house clients with addictions, mental illness or developmental issues.

CMHA executive director Christine Stewart said a community partner has finally been found to build a new housing-first facility in Red Deer.

“Pending no barriers, we are a go ahead,” said Stewart, who could not yet identify the local business looking to build the facility or say where it may be located.

The Buffalo is a privately owned building with rooms for rent, as the new facility would be. Other smaller supportive housing projects also operate in Red Deer.

“People have a lot of fear, but we’re doing a huge community service making sure that people have housing and people with mental illness have a place to be, not wandering on the streets when they are unwell.”

She said provincial funding was not considered an option for the new facility, but hopefully, funding will come through for other housing or shelter programs.

“I know the province has been in conversation, but don’t know if there has been a commitment to Red Deer dollars or not. We are hoping so. It’s fingers-crossed on that scenario.”

Stewart said about a month ago, there were 73 homeless people on the waiting list for housing. Since Lethbridge received funding, it would be nice if Red Deer was also a recipient, she said.

In the first six months of 2018, Red Deer had the highest rate of fentanyl-related deaths with 24, and Lethbridge was ranked second with 17.

Last year, Red Deer had 23 fentanyl-related deaths and Lethbridge reported 16. In 2016, Red Deer had 23 deaths and Lethbridge reported eight.

On Friday, Lethbridge also received $1.6 million to create 30 new spaces where people can stay safe while they sober up and reduce disruption to neighbourhoods and businesses.

Stacey Carmichael, executive director with the harm reduction agency Turning Point, said it sounds like Lethbridge has been funded for a program similar to Safe Harbour’s mat overnight program for people who are intoxicated or high.

“I think what Lethbridge is getting is very similar to what Red Deer already has. This will be great for Lethbridge for sure. I can’t imagine not having those things in place,” Carmichael said.

But it would be nice to have more access to supportive housing and a 24-hour mat program, she said.

“I don’t know that we have a whole lot of gaps in our community. It’s more that we don’t have quite enough of this, or quite enough of that. If we could enhance what we do have, that would be great,” Carmichael said.

A statement from the province said the provincial government has and will continue to work with the City of Red Deer to address local housing needs and support services.

“All Albertans should have access to safe, affordable housing. We are working to take every action to ensure all Albertans have access to the vital treatment and supports they need to address the opioid crisis,” the statement said.

Provincial funding to Red Deer has included:

  • $14.4 million for housing outreach support services since 2015 to break the cycle of homelessness. In the past year, the funding has helped to support 39 permanent supportive housing units in Red Deer.
  • $2 million in funding since 2015 to support the adult emergency shelter and nearly $8 million to support the operation of the Central Alberta Women’s emergency shelter.
  • Alberta Health has provided supports for an overdose prevention site in Red Deer.
  • $1.6 million to upgrade 20 detox beds to ensure clients have 24-7 access to doctors and nurses, as well as access to medication-assisted treatments.
  • $8.5 million in the 2018-19 budget commits capital funding to 30 new permanent supportive housing units in Red Deer.

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