A new Social Diversion Team in Red Deer is ready to respond to people in distress who are causing addictions- or mental health-related disturbances in the downtown and beyond.
With the officially launch of the team this week, Red Deerians who witness somebody in need of non-emergency help can call 211 and press 2. This applies to seeing anyone who needs non-emergency support, including those experiencing a personal crisis or homelessness.
“Rather than dispatching an officer or medic to a non-emergency situation, residents and business owners can call in the Social Diversion Team who will use their specialized training to provide assessment, intervention and support,” says Sarah Tittemore, interim chair of the city’s Systems leadership team.
Often, people see something concerning, but that doesn’t warrant an emergency call, added Tittemore. “The Social Diversion Team fills that niche to respond to these types of social issues.”
The one-year pilot program will use the 211 service for dispatch and Safe Harbour staff. The two-person Social Diversion Team pairs a licensed practical nurse with a social diversion specialist, who will both respond to reports of individuals in distress.
While the team’s hours will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 211 dispatchers will respond to calls 24/7, and refer them to proper agency for response, said Tittemore.
She added the dispatchers can connect people with the social services they need, such as housing supports, mental health supports, detox programs and harm reduction resources.
Kath Hoffman, executive-director of Safe harbour, welcomes the formation of the team.
Safe Harbour workers are often tied up helping clients indoors, so Hoffman believes the team is needed to help assist people who are in distress or causing disturbances in public spaces. She believes the pilot program will help strengthen relationships between social service agencies.
Another goal of the new Social Diversion Team and the 211 service is to help reduce the number of calls to Red Deer’s emergency and policing services. This will allow police and peace officers to focus on crime and real emergencies.
Insp. Holly Glassford, of Red Deer RCMP said decreasing impacts of social disorder on Red Deerians is a priority in the Annual Policing Plan. “We welcome the opportunity to work with the Social Diversion team to provide people with the right response at the right time,” she added.
Ken McMullen deputy general-manager of development and protective services for the city said “what’s most important is that people get the help they need, when they need it.”
By calling 211, Red Deerians will feel these concerns are being responded to, while first responders can concentrate on providing more critical care, McMullen added.
During the 2019 Community Safety Summit, hosted by the Systems Leadership Team, participants called for a broader spectrum of resources to address safety issues; the Social Diversion Program acknowledges this input.
“This program is one of many community safety initiatives intended to bring necessary and responsive change to our community at a time when some of our most vulnerable are struggling,” said Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer.
She mentioned the continuing pandemic and economic uncertainty that many Red Deerians are facing.
This pilot program “demonstrates our commitment to innovation and safety action for the benefit of all citizens in our city,” added Veer.
For more information about the Social Diversion team, visit www.reddeer.ca/211.