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Homelessness Task Force release interim report – Looking for your feedback

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Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce Task Force on Homelessness Release Interim “What We Heard” Report

Following eight months of comprehensive research, reviews of best practices, targeted interviews, and community conversations, the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber) Task Force on Homelessness is pleased to announce the release of its interim “What We Heard” report.

“As we share this interim report, we extend our sincere gratitude to all those who engaged with us throughout our research phase,” said Lyn Radford, Task Force Chair. “The perspectives shared with us have been instrumental in shaping our understanding of the complex issue of homelessness in Red Deer and informing our interim report.”

Since May 2023, the Chamber’s Task Force has prioritized listening and learning from various organizations and individuals to better understand the homelessness situation in Red Deer.

The Task Force:

• reviewed studies, municipal approaches, and news articles regarding best practices in addressing homelessness in Alberta and across North America;

• toured 17 agencies and facilities providing support for individuals experiencing homelessness in Calgary, Edmonton, and Red Deer;

• conducted 12 targeted interviews with government officials, social sector agencies, and community members who are experienced in social services or connected to homelessness initiatives; and

• hosted two community conversations to learn and hear from the social sector and Chamber Members on their perspectives and experiences regarding homelessness in Red Deer, with 47 individuals participating in these conversations.

The interim report outlines the Task Forces’ understanding of the homelessness situation in Red Deer and provides a summary of what has been learned during the research phase.

“Assessing the data and research gathered through our business lens, the Task Force has identified six key overarching themes that contribute to homelessness in Red Deer and are areas where the business community can actively contribute to address the issue and advocate for meaningful change,” says Scott Robinson, Chief Executive Officer of the Chamber. “We invite Red Deerians to review the report and provide their feedback on our findings by February 16, 2024. Your feedback is crucial in guiding our next steps as we strive to develop recommendations that are sound, relevant, and responsible. Together, we can make a meaningful difference in addressing homelessness in Red Deer.”

The interim report and feedback form may be viewed at:
https://www.reddeerchamber.com/homeless-task-force/.

The feedback form is at this link.

 

From the Homeless Task Force Report

A CASE FOR ACTION

During the City of Red Deer’s 2022 Point in Time Homeless count, 334 individuals were identified
as experiencing homelessness, more than double the 144 individuals identified as experiencing
homelessness in 2018.

Homelessness has a ripple effect throughout the community. Not only are the hundreds of Red
Deerians experiencing homelessness not being adequately supported in our community, but
homelessness impacts health and social services resources, crime and safety, and the reputation
and economic viability of Red Deer.

Recognizing the growing impacts of homelessness throughout Red Deer, the Red Deer & District
Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber) formed a volunteer Task Force of business leaders to
understand the homelessness situation in Red Deer better and identify specific areas where the
business community can actively contribute to addressing the issue and advocate for meaningful
change.

This interim report outlines the Task Force’s understanding of the homelessness situation in Red
Deer and summarizes what the Task Force learned during the research phase.

In the spring of 2024, the Task Force will deliver a final report using these findings to create a set of actionable recommendations for the community to consider.

2022 POINT IN TIME HOMELESSNESS COUNT

In 2022, the seven Albertan cities listed below coordinated point in time homelessness counts to create an understanding of homelessness across the province. While the cities coordinated their efforts, unique community trails and approaches impact the ability to make direct comparisons between the cities and results. Below, the number of individuals identified as experiencing homelessness and the city’s population are listed.

Calgary 2,782
Population: 1,413,8000

Edmonton 2,519
Population: 1,087,803

Grande Prairie 328
Population: 67,699

Lethbridge 454
Population: 104,254

Medicine Hat 70
Population: 65,949

Red Deer 334
Population: 105,883

Wood Buffalo 162
Population: 74,532

Source: Homeless Hub Community Profiles

KEY THEMES

Assessing the data and research gathered through our business lens, the Task Force has identified six key overarching themes that contribute to homelessness in Red Deer and are areas where the business community can actively contribute knowledge, experience, or resources to address the issue and advocate for meaningful change.

The overarching themes are:

1. Housing is a business and economic development issue
2. Community understanding of homelessness
3. It’s hard to go home when there is no home to go to
4. Collaborative fragmentation
5. Bureaucratization of homelessness
6. Conflicting civic priorities

City of Red Deer

City introduces new phone number to report non-emergency mental health, addiction, or homeless issues

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New streamlined way to reach Red Deer’s Social Diversion Team

Since launching in 2021, the Social Diversion Team (SDT) has been responding to calls throughout Red Deer for individuals in need of non-emergency support, whether experiencing mental health struggles, addictions issues, or homelessness.

Beginning March 1, 2024, the community will need to call the non-emergency police line at 403-406-2200 to connect with the Social Diversion Team. This move from the previous 2-1-1 call line will improve the caller’s ability to quickly connect with a Police Communications Operator who can quickly determine the nature of the call and dispatch the appropriate resources in a timely and efficient manner.

“This change simplifies calling and dispatching the Social Diversion Team,” said Peter Puszka, Municipal Policing Services Superintendent. “Red Deerians now need to remember only one contact number for all non-emergency community safety concerns and our experienced, well-trained Police Communications Operators can assess the circumstances of the call, determine which resource is appropriate and dispatch accordingly.”

Though the Alberta 2-1-1 has been the dispatching service since the onset of the program, the move to internal dispatching will simplify the call-in process, removing barriers like pre-recorded messaging and on-hold wait times, improve internal communication between the dispatchers and the responding Social Diversion Team, and allow for operators with local community knowledge to provide enhanced response.

While the phone number has changed, all other elements of the program remain the same. The two-person Social Diversion Team consists of a Licensed Practical Nurse and a Social Diversion Specialist, who respond to reports of individuals in distress. The team connects clients with the social services they need, such as housing supports, mental health supports, detox programs and harm reduction resources.

“We are excited to continue providing individuals with the right response at the right time,” says Ryan Veldkamp, Social Wellness & Integration Supports Superintendent. “We know that not every call is an emergency call, and that’s why the Social Diversion Team is the right choice for these situations where individuals are in crisis. The team continues to allow our first responders to concentrate on responding to critical medical emergencies and criminal matters.”

In its three years of operation, the SDT has averaged a response rate of 185 events per month or approximately 6 calls a day. The teams use their specialized training to provide assessment, intervention and support to those in need.

Stephanie MacDonald, Outreach and Housing Services Manager for Safe Harbour Society said, “The Social Diversion Team is very excited for this change over and believes that this will allow for a more effective and timely response.”

While the SDT continues to operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 7 days a week, the 24/7 non-

emergency line will dispatch the SDT based on their availability, or utilize other policing and medical services when they are not.

To learn more about the Social Diversion Team, visit www.reddeer.ca/SDT.

When Should I call the Social Diversion Team?

If you see someone who is:

  • Experiencing a mental health or medical (non-emergency) crisis
  • Intoxicated or otherwise impaired
  • Requiring transport to appropriate services (i.e. a shelter)
  • Sleeping in an unsafe space and/or inappropriately dressed for the weather
  • Requiring social services (i.e. housing, nutrition, health or community supports)
  • Likely to come to harm without intervention

And the individual is not posing an immediate harm to themselves or others, call 403-406-2200

The team’s hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. However, the non-emergency (403-406-2200) line is operated 24/7. Outside of the Social Diversion team operating hours, callers will be provided with either a community referral, crisis intervention support, connected to 911, or offered a follow-up.

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Addictions

City Council decides to close Red Deer’s Overdose Prevention Site

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City Council requests the Province of Alberta make changes to OPS in Red Deer

City Council made decisions (Friday) related to Red Deer’s Overdose Prevention Site (OPS), requesting the Government of Alberta (GOA):

  • formalize an orderly transition of the existing OPS out of Red Deer by the end of 2025;
  • provide in its place greater harm reducing options within our community that focus on health, wellness, and recovery, including more detox capacity, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), recovery coaches, counsellors, and culturally appropriate health and wellness supports, etc.;
  • provide dedicated grant funding to provide a continuous police presence/enforcement in the immediate vicinity of the OPS and temporary shelter, until the crime and social disorder impacts associated with these provincial services are better mitigated for the safety and security of our public;
  • substantially increase front-line supports for mental health and addictions within our community/region to better address the root causes leading to drug and alcohol addictions.

These decisions stem from a Notice of Motion put forward by Councillor Higham on December 18, 2023. After being read into the record on January 22, 2024, a non-statutory public hearing was scheduled for yesterday, February 15, 2024. Approximately 40 members of the public attended the non-statutory public hearing, with approximately 30 individuals speaking to the Notice of Motion, sharing their thoughts on the issue.

After hearing from the public yesterday, City Council debated the motion today, with Mayor Ken Johnston now having City Council direction to take the issue forward to the province and proceed with advocacy efforts.

“The public hearing and the debate of this motion were harrowing and emotional experiences for everyone. Each of us have been touched in some way by addiction; we heard that very clearly, and I am no exception. We heard heartfelt testimony from many members of our community, citizens, some who use the OPS, some who are service providers in the community, business owners, doctors, family members that have lost loves ones, and more,” said Mayor Johnston. “Council approached this most sensitive of issues with open minds, open ears, and open hearts. We are trying to improve lives for those suffering from addiction. This is a complex challenge, as these are areas where municipalities do not have jurisdiction. What we know is that Red Deer needs robust support from the provincial government for people with addictions; we need support for our community that is grappling with the fallout of addictions; and we need that support in the most immediate way.”

Mayor Johnston added, “Following this meeting, I will reach out to the Ministry of Addictions and Mental Health to book meetings where we can discuss how to move forward in the best interest of our city.”

Currently the OPS is located 5246 53 Avenue in downtown Red Deer.

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