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36 beds opening in Edmonton for homeless people recently discharged from ER


In a move that organizers are calling the first of this kind in Canada, Alberta is opening up three dozen beds for homeless Edmontonians who were just released from hospital emergency departments.

The Bridge Healing Transitional Accommodation Program, as the government named it, is supposed to improve health outcomes among the city's most vulnerable.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Jasper Place Wellness Centre (JPWC) are working together to open the first 12 spaces in the next week, officials said during a Thursday news conference at the new facility in west Edmonton. 

More will open in the coming months and the program will be expanded if it proves successful at connecting clients with housing and reducing strain on emergency department resources. 

"Historically speaking, from a transitional housing perspective, we know it will work. But as an accommodation program with Alberta Health Services, let's prove it out and then grow," JPWC co-founder Taylor Soroka told reporters. 

The facility's goal is to make those connections within a month, although Soroka called the timeline a "rough" target, as some steps – such as recovering from their hospital stay, getting ID, securing an income – may take longer. 

"We are doing research with this project… So we have to set some standards and then learn from those and adjust as we go," she said. 

According to Homeward Trust, as of Dec. 22, about 2,770 people in Alberta's capital city were experiencing homelessness. 

The Royal Alex counts about 8,800 visits by homeless patients each year, including multiple visits by the same patients who are suffering from mental health issues or chronic medical conditions. 

"When I go to work today and I see one of my homeless patients," commented Royal Alexandra Hospital physician Dr. Louis Francescutti, "I can't wait to say, 'Hang in there, buddy. One more week and I've got a place to send you.'"

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith called the program "the first of its kind in the entire country." Health Minister Jason Copping promised it would "improve the flow" of the entire health-care system. 


Officials said the facility cost about $1.2 million to build and was designed in alignment with the Eden Alternative, a care philosophy which prioritizes addressing loneliness, helplessness and boredom. Each person will stay in a private unit and have access to communal space. 

"I think folks come back to emergency for a variety of reasons and I think one of the biggest ones is they just want to feel like they're part of something. This will feel like they're part of something," Francescutti said. 

The program is estimated to have an operational cost of $80 per person per day, according to the Jasper Place Wellness Centre team. 

Alternatively, health professionals on Thursday estimated an emergency department visit can cost thousands if an ambulance was needed or a patient needs to be kept for multiple days. 

"If you have 8,850 patients just at the Royal Alex, and over 25,000 a year coming throughout our system – and a lot of these, unfortunately, patients who come through the system over and over again – our rough estimate is this is going to save the system and society an enormous amount of money," Francesscutti said. 

"Not only given that, just think of the impact on the individuals themselves. You can't put a dollar figure on having your own place and getting your life back on track."

AHS provided an initial investment of $1 million and has committed to annual funding for 36 beds. 

The health agency will measure the program's success with metrics in emergency departments as well as the outcomes of participants. 

However, Francescutti estimated Edmonton could need as many as 108 of these types of transitional beds to really make a dent helping Edmonton's most vulnerable population. 

According to the doctor, the beds were only an idea for four years until new AHS administrator Dr. John Cowell prioritized creating the program. 

Later on Thursday, Smith and Copping were scheduled to attend the opening of Alberta's first of eight "recovery communities'' in Red Deer. Those facilities will be equipped to host people struggling for longer and are another component of what the provincial government is calling its recovery-oriented approach to addiction. Top Stories

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