Calgary police host new addictions clinic for city’s homeless, Goal is to help clients access treatment and avoid jail time
A new mental health and addictions treatment clinic designed to meet the needs of Calgary’s homeless population will open its doors this summer and operators say there are few other facilities like it in North America.
Twenty-five staff members, including psychiatrists, physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners and social workers, are being brought together under one roof as part of a new initiative by Alberta Health Services and Calgary police.
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“It’s very forward what’s going on in this city for this complex, high-needs population,” said Julie Kerr, a senior operating officer for community, rural and mental health services with AHS.
“I think that there’s a shared understanding that these folks often come from histories of traumas with often complex needs, that actually approaching this from a health lens is the compassionate thing to do.”
The clinic, called the Cross Roads Centre, sits empty right now, waiting for furniture and staff.
It’s located inside the Calgary Police Service’s administration building, next to the central library and along the C-Train line.
The facility is part of an expansion of another multi-agency program for the city’s homeless called Safe Communities Opportunity and Resource Centre (SORCe) which sees police officers working with 17 different community-based organizations that do assessments and provide referrals, housing supports and counselling.
Focus on treatment
But it’s the heavy police presence that makes SORCe and the new clinic unique, according to Staff Sgt. Frank Cattoni, who is the executive director at SORCe.
“We actually work with the population to try to deal with their justice problems beause we don’t want the justice system to get in the way of getting treatment for them,” said Cattoni.
He said the idea for the clinic came about last year after he and his staff noticed a large percentage of their clients were dealing with trauma-based issues and mental health concerns while medicating themselves with street drugs.
“So that creates some very complex people that have complex health issues and so we’re trying to take a different stance,” Cattoni said.
“Instead of looking at this population through a justice lens, we need to look at it through a health lens.”
Kerr says the problem is clients at SORCe will often be referred to a psychiatrist or a physician but for a variety of reasons don’t follow through with treatment.
Referrals don’t always work
“If they’re struggling, it’s sometimes hard to get organized to take a referral and get to a clinic,” Kerr said.
“So what we’re hoping is that by offering the services right here, we can do a warm hand-off, someone from SORCe can actually bring them over to the clinic, we can offer a flexible schedule so they don’t need an appointment to get in here.”
While the clinic is focused on addictions and mental health issues, Kerr said it will also have staff to address medical problems and provide some types of medication as a form of harm reduction, but it won’t be a supervised injection site.
28% jump in client interactions
Cattoni said he hasn’t been able to find a similar type of medical clinic in the country, but believes there may be a few in the United States.
Last year SORCe had about 2,500 client interactions, a 28-per-cent increase since opening its doors in 2013.
Cattoni said recent research in Calgary shows this type of multidisciplinary model works.
“There are two big impacts,” he said.
“You get better client care because it’s now client-centred service and you have big impact on the system in terms of savings.”
Cattoni says SORCe will also be offering more cultural supports for its Indigenous homeless population when the clinic opens.
“We know that they represent about 2.5 percent of the city’s population but they represent about 38 per cent of the homeless population in Calgary.”
He adds SORCe is also behind efforts to set up a problem-solving court for people with addictions, those with mental health problems and homeless people to try to steer them away from jail, and instead get them the supports they need.