A task force has been formed to try to tackle addiction, homelessness and crime in Calgary.
The Calgary Public Safety and Community Response Task Force was launched at a news conference on Friday and will be chaired by Community and Social Services Minister Jeremy Nixon.
Task force members include cabinet members, city councillors, City of Calgary staff, Calgary Police Service Chief Mark Neufeld, the Calgary Fire Department, Indigenous representatives and community partners. City councillors include Andre Chabot and Sonya Sharp.
Municipal Affairs Minister Rebecca Schulz said Mayor Jyoti Gondek is aware of the task force but will not be a member at this time. However, Schulz said the task force will invite Gondek for consultation and input in the future.
On Thursday, Gondek was asked about whether she had heard about the coming task force, based on a newspaper column. She said she had not read the column, but said sometimes discussions between municipal and provincial governments need to stay confidential for a time before being made public.
In a statement released on Friday, Gondek said she is “pleased” to see the establishment of a local task force to create solutions around housing, mental health and addictions.
“We developed a multi-agency crisis response model that was designed to care for individuals and their communities. As a result, the Government of Alberta recognized the value of investing in this integrated approach to mental health and addiction supports, as well as housing and community safety,” the statement read.
In a news release on Friday morning, the government said the task force aims to tackle social addresses through a series of initiatives in Calgary as part of a $187 million commitment to address addiction and homelessness in Alberta’s urban centres. Almost $58 million of that funding will be used to directly address addiction and homeless in the city, the release read.
The government said this is in addition to the $73 million in funding for shelter spaces in Calgary and other housing supports. Nearly $10 million has already been used to increase access to addiction treatment.
Gondek noted she had not received an update from the province on previously-promised money to address homelessness.
“We are still eager to understand how the money will be dispersed from the October promise of more investment into resolving homelessness, addressing poverty, mental health and addictions,” Calgary’s mayor said Thursday. “I remain optimistic that our provincial government will be making some sort of an announcement soon.”
Mental Health and Addictions Minister Nicholas Milliken said addiction is affecting all Calgarians and the government must take action against the “most urgent” social issue in the province.
“We are going to continue to build a system of mental health care that is focused on prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery,” Milliken told reporters on Friday.
Nixon said he commends the City of Calgary and non-profit organizations for working on the front lines to deal with addictions and homelessness in the city.
He also said addictions and homelessness has been “top of mind” for the United Conservative government but acknowledged they are complex issues. Nixon spent most of his career working in the non-profit sector before entering politics and has worked at organizations such as The Mustard Seed in Calgary.
“By working with our partners in Calgary, I am confident that we will see positive impacts on the entire community,” Nixon said.
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“The collaborative steps we are taking through this task force will help many individuals recover from addiction, find housing support and get their lives back.”
However, neither Milliken nor Nixon provided specific solutions for transit safety and addictions treatment at Friday’s news conference, instead referring to other ministers’ portfolios.
Milliken said the province is considering “all options” for drug and alcohol addictions treatment but stopped short of saying whether or not the government is considering legislation to admit intoxicated people into involuntary treatment if they are being held by police or social agencies.
Milliken also said the government will be tracking the success of the task force using detailed data and records.
“We don’t really have a good mechanism in regards to ensuring the person gets the help that they need and want, so we’re looking at all options to see if we can figure out how to best help those individuals and help save their lives,” he said.
“We want to try to get data such as personal health numbers and other things of that nature. We won’t deny services to people who don’t provide that but we can follow individuals we’ve had interactions with and ensure they’re progressing through their recovery.”
Earlier in the week, the province announced a similar task force for Edmonton, with analogous membership.
–with files from Adam Toy, Global News