380+ vulnerable people have accessed Edmonton’s ‘navigation and support centre’

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

Just over a month ago, the Alberta government launched a new centre to connect vulnerable Edmontonians with social, health and housing supports. Between Jan. 17 and Feb. 23, more than 380 people have accessed the navigation and support centre, the province said.

Located at the Hope Mission’s Karis Centre on 103rd Avenue and 107th Street, workers at the site help people access existing housing, navigate banking and identification supports like getting birth certificates and Alberta health-care numbers. People can also access health resources like opioid dependency programs and income supports like AISH and Alberta Works applications. Indigenous cultural supports are also available.

To date, there have been more than 1,200 referrals and direct connections to services, a spokesperson for the ministry of mental health and addiction told Global News on Friday.

The province said since the centre opened, more than 125 people have been connected to housing programs, including affordable housing and rental supplements, more than 200 have been connected to emergency shelter spaces or transitional and supportive housing. Service Alberta has issued more than 215 identification cards. Since Jan. 17, the province says more than 190 people have been referred to health supports, and more than 60 have been connected to mental health and addiction services, including 19 people who’ve started opioid agonist therapy.

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

The centre was established in mid-January amid ongoing debate about how to address Edmonton’s homelessness crisis.

This one-stop physical space was seen as a way to provide hands-on help to vulnerable people, many of whom were staying in encampments.

To measure the centre’s effectiveness, it’s being evaluated every 30 days. The province said Friday the first evaluation is “currently underway.”

A photo of the inside of the Karis Centre in central Edmonton on Jan. 17, 2024. Global News

Tim Pasma, director of programming for Hope Mission, said the centre offers a quieter and more controlled environment that is also more comprehensive.

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“The centre has been going great,” he said on Feb. 28. “We’ve seen a lot of different people coming through that have been needing a range of different supports. We’ve been able to help with ID services, with different social supports, access to income supports, access to housing, primary health care, mental health care and addictions.”

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Pasma said the centre sees about 15 to 20 people on average per day. Their length of stay depends on the types of services they need, he said.

“We do have shelter spaces here for people so if they do need to spend some time here, they can nap here or sleep overnight here while they wait, for example, for a bed to open up in a particular area where they need to go.”

Some of the main goals are to provide tangible help in a way that respects dignity and reduces barriers, Pasma said.

“They can bring pets, they can bring belongings, storage, anything like that.”

Click to play video: 'Province gives Edmonton police funding boost for HELP unit'
Province gives Edmonton police funding boost for HELP unit

When an encampment is dismantled, he says, residents are offered transportation to the navigation centre.

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“It’s not mandatory that people come, they’re not forced to come,” he said. “This is a service that we’re offering, (and if) voluntarily, people want to come (they can) access it.

“A lot of people have actually referred others to come to this centre because they’ve had a really good experience,” Pasma added.

“If they’re telling their friends or other people in the community that this is a place where you can go to actually access meaningful supports, then that’s a really good sign that this is actually working.”

When people come from encampments and have to access different services at different locations, that can sometimes lead to frustration with the system or just giving up, Pasma said.

“That’s a big challenge in the community. This has enabled us to keep track of the person, support them right where they are and right when something opens up, we can get them transported.

“The benefit to this system is people don’t have to tell their story to multiple different people and you don’t have the apathy of: I can’t get the support I need … the system is not working for me.”

Pasma says there’s still a great need for medium- to long-term supports like affordable and supportive housing. But the centre is a great step to provide triaged, immediate supports. It can also inform how future services are offered, Pasma said.

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“It’s incredibly important, especially for people specifically from encampments, so we can start to understand: what are the barriers in their way from accessing services appropriately? How can we adapt to serve them rather than forcing those people to adapt to the system that’s existed?”

Click to play video: 'What’s next for Edmonton’s homeless encampment? Complex challenges loom'
What’s next for Edmonton’s homeless encampment? Complex challenges loom

Police chief Dale McFee said Thursday that the service is already noticing improvements since big encampments were dismantled and the navigation centre opened.

“You can’t, as much as some people think, realistically try to police 1,800 or 2,000 or whatever number of tents that you might have. It’s just not possible,” he said.

“We’ve seen some of the violence in this particular area go down because people can’t hide anymore.

“That particular environment is conducive to criminal activity. So, we’ve seen a drastic change and some pretty good results so far, in the first six to eight weeks here in the downtown area,” McFee said. “But again, it’s a long ways from being where we want it to be.”

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And, the police chief said about 50 to 60 per cent of people who were living in and around encampments accessed support services at the navigation centre. That’s a success, McFee said.

“What we’ve come across is a real-time centre to get people help and get them connected to services.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton encampment legal battle in court as Rowland Road camp residents resist removal'
Edmonton encampment legal battle in court as Rowland Road camp residents resist removal

Deputy Chief Darren Derko, who is in charge of community policing, said there were four arrests in the last month involving encampment residents and they were all for warrants.

“All four of those individuals, once they were processed on their warrants, were taken to the navigation centre,” he added. “They all actually wanted to go there.”

And that’s freeing up police resources to focus on other things, Derko said.

“As we’re moving away from some of the encampment work — we’re finding there’s not as many encampments anymore — we were actually talking today about how we’re redeploying those members to kind of look at those crime-impacted areas and making sure we have a police presence.”


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