Help for drug crisis
Province to fund 42bed supportive housing facility, 30 intox spaces
The provincial government has responded to the needs of those on the front lines of the drug crisis with an $11-million grant to build a new 42-bed supportive housing facility for recovering addicts and another $1.6-million grant to create 30 new intox spaces, Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips announced at city hall on Friday.
“As Lethbridge MLAs, Maria (Fitzpatrick) and I have heard our community loud and clear,” she said. “No one wants to see our families, our friends and our neighbours struggle with opioid dependency, and it is far too common. Compassion is not enough, though; we must act. This is a long-term fight, and this is the next stage.”
Phillips confirmed the government was aiming to have the new facilities built, up and running by next year.
The 30-space intox facility, in particular, will allow first responders to take individuals they find intoxicated, or high on drugs, in public areas to a safe place where they can come down from their addictions without bringing further harm to themselves or the public.
Lethbridge Police Chief Rob Davis said getting intox in the community was a huge step in giving his officers the tools they needed to deal with public drug usage and intoxication.
“The (enhanced policing) announcements from the (City’s) budget deliberations, along with this announcement; they are all lining up to make the city a better place,” Davis stated. “I have said a number of times we cannot arrest our way out of this. Our powers (as police) are very limited. When we arrest somebody, we cannot detain them arbitrarily for an unlimited amount of time. This gives us a facility where we can take the addicted person to start the treatment process to beat the addiction.”
Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services Chief Richard Hildebrand said both the intox and supportive housing announcements give his members a bit of hope after a long, hard struggle against the opioid crisis this past year.
“General trends suggest this issue is going to get worse,” he said. “We are dealing with just such high numbers of overdose responses and deaths. We are still losing people, and that is difficult on our staff. We see the same person in a span of a few days who has overdosed numerous times, and it just feels as if it is hopeless at times.
“So this announcement today is really going to make, we feel, a starting point to address some of the key, underlying issues, and we hope we will see some relief of some the strains our system has felt as a result of (the drug crisis).”
Mayor Chris Spearman said the two long-awaited announcements from the province came about as a result of years of tireless lobbying by the City. He praised MLAs Fitzpatrick and Phillips for their strong support at the provincial level on bringing this supportive housing and intox funding to Lethbridge; this on top of existing services like the Supervised Consumption Site, eight new detox beds at the Chinook Regional Hospital and provincial money for local needle collection efforts.
“I think this a great day for the City of Lethbridge,” said Spearman. “We have listened to the citizens. We have listened to our partners in the community who are dealing with the drug issue, and now we have finally gotten funded for all four of the programs we were asking support for. Being funded by four (provincial government) ministries, along with our two MLAs, to address the most serious issue in the city right now — that’s tremendous. And we look forward to working with them on implementation.”
Fitzpatrick said the announcements made on Friday will pay dividends for public safety and well-being going forward.
“The first thing you have to do is save lives,” said Fitzpatrick, referring to the Supervised Consumption Site, “but now with the wrap-around services that have been announced today, I think our local businesses are going to see a positive impact. They are not going to have people hanging around their businesses (high on drugs). You are going to see a drop in petty crime. You are going to see positive responses from all of those pillars (SCS, intox, detox and supportive housing).”
Lethbridge West MLA Shannon Phillips, alongside Lethbridge East MLA Maria Fitzpatrick and mayor Chris Spearman, announces provincial funding for a supportive housing facility, and the creation of new intox spaces in response to the current drug crisis. @IMartensHerald
Lethbridge Police Chief Rob Davis, right, and Lethbridge Fire Chief Richard Hildebrand listen to the announcement of provincial funding for addiction recovery facilities Friday at city hall. @IMartensHerald