Calls to Red Deer’s social diversion team have out-stripped expectations, so the project was adapted after a one-year pilot.
When the 211 phone number was launched in January 2021 to get non-emergency help to city residents who were distressed for mental health or addictions reasons, city officials figured about 135 calls a month would come in.
The reality is that close 170 calls a month were made to the 211 number over the past year, said Jeremy Bouw, the city’s supervisor for community safety and resiliency.
“It surpassed our expectations, with calls from business owners, from first responders and others.”
As a result, city council approved ongoing funding for the social diversion team, which costs about $525,000 a year.
In the first six months of 2021 alone, Bouw reported that the team responded to 878 events, averaging six calls a day. He noted each of these calls freed up emergency responders and police to deal with more urgent matters.
Anyone in the community can call 211 if they see someone needing help, but not necessarily police or ambulance assistance.
It could be someone under-dressed for the weather, who’s distressed or causing a disturbance for reasons related to addictions or mental health, he added.
The Social Diversion Team is made up of a licensed practical nurse and an addictions and mental health worker. Bouw said the two workers alternate being on call from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Outside of those hours, people who need a response are encouraged to call 911.
Bouw said police or emergency responders are sometimes called to these disturbances even during daytime hours. After assessing the scene the first responders have notified the social diversion team, realizing that’s the best course of action.
Team members determine where to take the person in distress — whether to a shelter, to the hospital, an local agency or a private address.
The number of calls that come in for social diversion-type incidents outside the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. time frame are being tracked by the city, but so far they amount to only about 20 calls a month, said Bouw. If these increase, he added, the city could consider expanding the team’s hours.
The biggest challenge over the past year was pandemic-related. Bouw said some local agencies are only offering online help at this time, but he hopes this will change if the COVID threat eases later in 2022.