Blue Line

Alberta to bolster mental and addictions help for police suspects in Calgary

April 14, 2023  By The Canadian Press

Apr. 14, 2023, Calgary, Alta. – The Alberta government says it will fund mental health and addiction supports for people being held in police custody in Calgary and expand community-led harm reduction teams in the city.

Nicholas Milliken, minister of mental health and addiction, says the province is to spend $5 million on the program over three years in partnership with Calgary police.

“I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the growing trend of social issues like addiction, mental health, homelessness and public safety, and how they’ve affected our city,” Milliken said Friday.

“Residents, businesses, transit riders and even visitors can all clearly see the impact of this crisis and the social disorder that comes along with it.”

The program is also to include placing crisis workers in the city’s 911 dispatch centre to provide enhanced support on mental health and addiction calls.

There will also be on-site health-care practitioners and paramedics at Calgary police’s Spyhill Services Centre.

Milliken said a specialized health team will be embedded within Calgary police to deliver in-person medical care and counselling services.

“Police are serving on the front lines of the addiction crisis. They’re frequently called to respond to public safety concerns related to mental health and addiction,” Milliken said.

“The individuals involved in these calls might not require emergency services, but many of them need access to mental care, addiction and mental health support.”

Deputy police Chief Katie McLellan said the service is looking at allocating eight of the 60 cells in the arrest processing unit to provide a safe space for those in need.

“The service will be able to better serve Calgarians experiencing mental health and addiction crises, specifically additional front-end support for those in need when they call 911 and a more holistic, multidisciplinary intervention approach to stabilize detainees in custody with their mental health and addiction issues,” she said.

“Everyone here is aware of the high level of social disorder we are experiencing across the city and this funding is another step to curb negative behaviours in public spaces.”

Calgary has been rocked by a wave of violent crime in the past week, including a man being fatally shot in a parking lot and a shooting on a bus that sent a man sent to hospital in life-threatening condition. There have also been several random attacks on the city’s light rail transit system.

The plan also will allow the Alpha House Society, a community non-profit, to add a second outreach team to help those on the street.

“Our teams respond to 120 calls a day from businesses, community members and other agencies, and we help thousands of people each year,” said executive director Kathy Christiansen.

“Our outreach teams support people struggling with addiction, homelessness and mental health to get the help they need.”

The United Conservative Party government announcement in Calgary on Friday makes no mention of similar programming or funding for other communities in Alberta dealing with the same problems.

In December, the government announced public safety community response task forces in Calgary and Edmonton as part of a plan to address addiction and homelessness in urban centres.

The government said Friday’s announcement stemmed from the work of the Calgary Task Force and that there could be further announcements stemming from the work of the Edmonton Task Force in the coming weeks.

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