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After Edmonton success, province opening navigation and support centre in Calgary

Click to play video: 'Navigation centre to help people in need find support opening in Calgary'
Navigation centre to help people in need find support opening in Calgary
WATCH: The City of Calgary and the Alberta government are partnering with social service agencies to provide critical support to those in need. As Craig Momney reports, it’s meant to be a one service stop to help Calgary’s most vulnerable navigate the system – Jun 5, 2024

The Alberta government will be building a new navigation and support centre in Calgary, which it says is designed to alleviate pressures felt by front-line workers and emergency services.

The navigation and support centre will offer services such as income support, shelter and housing options, Indigenous resources, and help obtaining a valid Alberta ID.

The centre will also offer one-stop-shop access to health, mental health and addiction treatment, according to a news release on Wednesday.

Transportation will be provided to and from the centre, the province added, including a ride to the next location or referral. Alberta Health Services and the Calgary Urban Project Society will be on-site to provide these services.

“We will bring together our nonprofit partners, the Ministry of Social Services, as well as our sister ministries like mental health and addictions, and make sure we can get all of those supports … (And make sure) people so can access those supports, and then they can go on to lead successful and happy lives,” Social Services Minister Jason Nixon told reporters on Wednesday.

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The centre is an expansion of a similar program in Edmonton and aims to provide vulnerable and homeless Calgarians with wraparound resources, the province said.

Nixon said Edmonton’s navigation and support centre was opened in response to the large number of encampments, particularly around the downtown core and to the north of it, where most of Edmonton’s social service agencies and homeless shelters are located.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton navigation centre helping the homeless to become a permanent operation'
Edmonton navigation centre helping the homeless to become a permanent operation

Edmonton’s navigation and support centre has been used by over 1,850 people and has made around 5,625 referrals since January of this year, according to Wednesday’s news release.

The province also said the centre has helped with around 1,000 referrals to housing programs and connections to shelter services.

While Calgary has been working to manage encampments “in a compassionate way,” Nixon said, social disorder has been a challenge at CTrain stations and other public spaces.

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A report from Vibrant Communities Calgary found that calls to police related to social disorder at LRT stations have sharply increased in 2021 and 2022. In 2023, calls for service were back to pre-pandemic levels.

Social disorder is defined in the report as conversations from transit peace officers or Calgary Police Service officers related to littering, loitering, fare evasion and urinating or defecating in transit stations. However, they are not usually criminal in nature.

“This is a way that we can help people in positions of extreme vulnerability. And as the premier and the minister have outlined, it’s an opportunity to have all services located in one place,” said Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek at Wednesday’s news conference. 

“If you think about your own life and how difficult it is to go out and get your driver’s license renewed, or go and figure out where you might need to rent a place, it’s not easy to do.

“Navigating the system is not easy. And then I want you to imagine that you don’t have a home, or that you are struggling with mental illness. How are you going to accomplish this on your own?”

Click to play video: 'More families share concerns after loved ones die on Calgary streets: ‘Seeing her body just broke my heart’'
More families share concerns after loved ones die on Calgary streets: ‘Seeing her body just broke my heart’

Patricia Jones, CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, called the navigation and support centre a “pivotal and first-of-its-kind initiative” for Calgary.

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“Let us reaffirm our collective commitment to working hand-in-hand across sectors, across communities to tackle homelessness head-on,” she said on Wednesday.

“With continued collaboration, partnership, innovation, investment … we can build a brighter future for all Calgarians, ensuring that every individual or family, whether that be a mother or a father or a grandmother or an elder, or an aunt or an uncle, or God forbid, a child has the support that they need to have the life that they want.”

However, the Opposition NDP criticized the move, saying it doesn’t add any permanent, supportive housing.

Janis Irwin, the NDP’s housing critic, said the navigation and support centre is just a “band-aid solution” from the UCP government.

“This is a performative measure from Danielle Smith and the UCP that will keep Albertans trapped in the shelter system, rather than connecting them to the permanent housing they need,” Irwin said in a statement.

“Minister Nixon announced a similar facility when Edmonton saw an increase in encampments. After two months, less than one per cent of those who accessed the navigation centre were connected with permanent housing.

“The UCP’s plan has failed to fix the problem they claimed the navigation centre would solve. In fact, they’ve pushed people further into the margins and further away from the critical services they need.

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“I worry that a similar approach in Calgary will yield similarly poor results while wasting millions of tax dollars that could be invested in housing Albertans permanently.”

Edmonton’s navigation and support centre has also been criticized by advocacy groups in the past.

Jim Gurnett with the advocacy group Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness said he was concerned that the way criminality in encampments was discussed at the news conference will confuse Edmontonians and lead to the belief “that people who are homeless are also part of some terrible criminal element.”

Gurnett added that he believes staying in a shelter is sometimes also not safe.

–With files from Phil Heidenreich, Global News.

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