Alberta’s new ‘navigation and support centre’ helps 145 since opening in mid-January

Click to play video: 'Edmonton’s new homeless navigation centre deemed success'
Edmonton’s new homeless navigation centre deemed success
Less than three weeks into its existence, a new low-barrier navigation centre for those being displaced by encampment shutdowns has already helped nearly 150 people. As Sarah Ryan explains, the province is already looking at expanding the wrap-around services to those in shelters – Feb 5, 2024

The Alberta government said 145 people have sought help through its new navigation and support centre since it opened on Jan. 17.

The centre was opened in downtown Edmonton last month, amid ongoing debate about how to address Edmonton’s homelessness crisis.

Located at the Hope Mission’s Karis Centre on 103rd Avenue and 107th Street, the province said the facility would provide increased support for people living in homeless encampments across the city.

Tim Pasma with the Hope Mission explained Service Alberta is on site to provide identification, birth certificates and Alberta health care numbers. Staff from mental health and addictions are also helping people access things like opioid dependency programs. Also on site is access to income supports such as AISH and Alberta Works applications, and housing agencies.

“We often find that people need multiple options — you need an ID in order to access the income supports in order to be housed,” Pasma said. “So to have those immediately connected to each other has been a great benefit for the community members coming for service.”

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Click to play video: 'Reaction to Alberta announcement on Edmonton homeless navigation and support centre'
Reaction to Alberta announcement on Edmonton homeless navigation and support centre

In a news release Saturday, the province also said more than “500 referrals and direct connections have been made to available services.”

Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jason Nixon said on Monday some of those 145 individuals receiving more than one service was the whole point of the facility.

“We’re so excited by those numbers that we’re now looking at different ways that we can use this method of the navigation centre throughout our emergency housing system and other ways that we interact with the homeless population,” Nixon said.

Pasma said so far, the facility has been a positive resource for the homeless and vulnerable community.

“We weren’t sure when we started opening the site how many people would voluntarily want to come and access the supports.

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“We’ve seen really, really positive results and a lot of people accessing a range of supports that they really needed.”

The facility is set up with a reception area, has food, coffee and clothing available and even space to charge phones, store belongings and help care for pets. It was uniquely designed with supporting people from homeless encampments, Pasma explained.

“We want this to be low barrier so anybody can access it. We want people to feel comfortable when they come in and have basic needs met,” Pasma said.

He said a service hub pilot project launched a year and a half ago had many of those elements, but the navigation and support centre also has an embedded short-term shelter.

“This offers another level of care geared towards a more specific group of people that are vulnerable on our streets.”

Navigation centre on Feb. 5, 2024, for Edmontonians experiencing houselessness, located at 10302 107 Street. Global News

Of the 500 connections, the province said more than 55 people have been connected to housing programs, including affordable housing and rental supplements, and at least 80 people have been connected to emergency shelter spaces, transitional and  supportive housing.

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Service Alberta has also issued more than 60 identification cards and at least 60 people have been connected with employment and financial services.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton to increase encampment cleanups as support centre opens'
Edmonton to increase encampment cleanups as support centre opens

The Alberta government said the ‘benefit” of the centre is that people can access several types of services in one place, including mental health and addiction support.

The province said more than 50 people have been referred for health supports and about 40 have been connected to mental health and addiction services, including about 10 people who have started opioid agonist therapy (OAT).

“I’m pleased to know Albertans facing homelessness and suffering from the deadly disease of addiction are getting connected to treatment and other services through this navigation and support centre. Rather than sleeping in tents often in gang-run drug camps, these individuals are getting the care and help they need,” Mental Health and Addiction Minister Dan Williams said.

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“We have made noticeable progress toward a long-term solution that both helps the vulnerable and holds the gangs and drug dealers preying on them accountable,”  Dale McFee, chief of the Edmonton Police Service, said in a statement.

“Because we are able to connect individuals to wrap-around supports immediately, there are fewer encampments across the city, leaving less opportunity for criminals to target those struggling with mental health, addiction and trauma. Early indications are that this partnership-based approach works.”

The navigation centre is open Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Services and staff are available 24-7 for individuals registered with and using the centre.

“This centre has not only helped Edmonton’s most vulnerable, it is an important step to creating a safe and vibrant downtown for all,” said Mike Saunders, with the Downtown Recovery Coalition.

The province said the centre will be evaluated after 30 days to gauge the effectiveness of the program and its services.

“I think that’s the next logical step: how do we take this now beyond encampments? Because we’re seeing such success,” Nixon said.

Pasma said the Hope Mission is optimistic, given the success thus far.

“Having that range of supports all in one space, is very, very, very helpful for anybody — helping them remove barriers to accessing the support they need to not be in an encampment and not be experiencing homelessness, and get them into the proper support.

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“So we’re really hopeful that some version of this continues to exist and continues to operate.”

Nixon said it isn’t known if the navigation centre would remain in the same building — there are accessibility concerns because it’s in a basement — or operate in the same context long term, but for now — it’s working.

“I just don’t think we can ignore the results,” he said.

“I can’t see a world where we don’t keep this type of tool going forward.”

Long term, the Karis Centre will be a 100-bed, 24-7 women’s shelter focused on providing wraparound services — more than a mat on the floor and a meal, Pasma explained.

“We’ll have medical supports on site, housing supports, ID services and then all the basics like laundry, hygiene services, obviously sleeping, storage. So it’s a full service facility,” Pasma said.

“We’re trying to change the model of shelter to be a bit more of an all-encompassing approach to really helping people exit homelessness.”

Click to play video: 'Reaction to Alberta announcement on Edmonton homeless navigation and support centre'
Reaction to Alberta announcement on Edmonton homeless navigation and support centre

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