A shut-down Red Deer nightclub could be converted into an addictions treatment centre if a group of business owners’ plans come through.
Since Alberta Health isn’t stepping in to fund a residential drug treatment centre for Red Deer, then the community needs to do something, said Wes Giesbrecht, a local realtor.
He is representing a group of “faith-based” investors who have bought the former Lotus Nightclub in an effort to ease the city’s opioid crisis.
Giesbrecht is alarmed that Red Deer still holds the No. 1 spot in Alberta for overdose deaths from fentanyl.
Forty-seven local people died in 2018, more than double the 23 deaths in 2017. Based on a population of 100,000, Red Deer’s opioid death rate is double that of most other Alberta centres.
Considering negative impacts on the downtown, “we’re at defcon nine,” he said, using a U.S. military term for imminent danger.
“This is a heartbeat (cause) because we know there’s a need,” added Giesbrecht. “We cannot continue this way any longer. There needs to be some action.”
The local business owners purchased the former Lotus Nightclub in downtown Red Deer last year. They intend to reopen it as a 20- to 40-bed addictions treatment centre, modelled after the Christian-based Calgary Dream Centre.
Giesbrecht said studies show there’s an 86 per cent success rate of former addicts staying clean once they manage to stay off drugs for six months.
While Red Deer has several detox facilities that help people initially get off drugs, there’s no program for helping them to learn to live without opioids over the longer term, he added.
Plans for the former nightclub include adding one or two floors to the building and installing beds and program space needed for a 49-day residential treatment program.
Giesbrecht believes a 40-bed residential program would be filled right away if it opened tomorrow. But he understands it will be a long road towards opening a facility.
The group must first obtain non-profit status, as well as a development permit from the city. Then it will embark on a fundraising campaign for $1.5 million to $2 million for the renovations. Getting government grants and corporate sponsorships will both on the agenda.
Giesbrecht is encouraged that some important connections were already made through meetings with local agencies and several Red Deer city councillors. He feels the project has so far received a lot of support.
“It’s something the community has wanted for a long time,” said Stacey Carmichael, executive-director of Turning Point.
While she doesn’t believe a residential drug treatment program is the solution for every drug user, Carmichael added, “it would definitely be one more rung in the ladder” towards stemming the opioid crisis.
While four city councillors who toured the Calgary Dream Centre were generally positive about the local effort, they stopped short of endorsing it, saying they need more details.
Coun. Vesna Higham is pleased with the effort to bring a treatment centre to Red Deer, but said development issues still need to be identified by the municipal planning commission.
Coun. Tanya Handley wants to hear more input about the location and programs that would be offered.
“Like any good idea, we have to see how it rolls out and is driven,” said Coun. Ken Johnston.
Coun. Lawrence Lee commends the instigators for their compassion, but wonders if a mandatory drug treatment program for addicts in the criminal justice system is more needed.
Giesbrecht said a community open house will be held at the former Lotus Nightclub at the end of the month revealing more details.