Lethbridge’s Diversion Outreach Team expands its services

As many in Lethbridge residents struggle with addictions to opioids and alcohol, an organization that works on the front lines of helping those at risk has expanded their services. Chris Chacon explains.

As many in Lethbridge struggle with opioid addiction and alcohol, an organization that works on the front lines of helping those at risk and vulnerable populations has expanded their services.

The Diversion Outreach Team is not only adding longer hours, but they are also adding more boots on the ground.

“Everyday is different, it’s never the same thing everyday. We do see the same people everyday but they are in different situations,” said Jake Potts.

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Potts is a member of the Diversion Outreach Team, also known as DOT. He drives around in a bus helping those at-risk and vulnerable.

READ MORE: Residents feel unsafe in downtown Lethbridge after dark: survey

“Especially now with the heat — it being like 34 degrees — somebody passed out is not going to last too long sitting out there,” added Potts.

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It’s a risk he takes very seriously, with every call potentially life-threatening.

“We are a mobile response to street-level addiction and homelessness in our city.

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“Basically, our mandate is to keep the downtown core but also all of Lethbridge safe and provide transportation to individuals needing assistance getting to safe shelters,” said David Gabert, communication lead and project coordinator with Canadian Mental Health Association.

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Since 2015, DOT has been providing the much-needed transportation. But with increased demand, services have expanded. Teams are now out from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, plus a second team will operate from 2 p.m. till 10 p.m. — a significant change from just one bus operating from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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“We’ve worked really closely with the city of Lethbridge and the Downtown BRZ to address the fact that downtown safety is a huge priority.

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“We also know that transportation is a huge issue in the city, so both increasing the safety in the downtown core is one part of the program. But getting people to housing, to appointments, to whatever it might be that they need is the second priority.” added Gabert.

Their mandate helps more than just Lethbridge’s at-risk population.

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“It also really helps the city because it diverts calls away from EMS and police.

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“So if the police are responding to a scene that isn’t something that is a criminal offence or EMS is responding to a non-medical emergency, they can call the Diversion Outreach Team and free up their services for actual emergencies in the community,” Gabert said.

READ MORE: Early detection is key in youth mental health: Canadian Mental Health Association

For Potts, this work has become much more than just a job.

“Being able to recognize who is who. Even stopping by to say hello — I know that doesn’t happen a lot. It’s great seeing a smile on their face,” added Potts.

The longer hours and second team are expected to be permanent additions to DOT’s efforts.