Alberta unveils $187M plan to address addiction and homelessness
The Government of Alberta has announced a new plan to help communities across the province tackle addiction and homelessness.
The Action Plan on Homelessness was announced Saturday, with $187 million over two years to be spent on addiction services and housing supports.
The plan is based on recommendations by the Co-ordinated Community Response to Homelessness Task Force — announced in November 2022 — and is what the Alberta government calls a "housing-focused, recovery-oriented model."
Provincial numbers recorded more than 6,400 Albertans experiencing homelessness as recently as January.
The plan will include $48.7 million to support 3,500 spaces at 27 shelters in eight Alberta communities and $89.6 million in funding to community organizations in the province's seven major cities.
In Edmonton, $5 million will be spent to create up to 450 more shelter spaces, the Alberta government said, and $12 million will be given to Edmonton to address a decade of funding inequalities.
"Today is a good day for our city," said Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi.
"These significant investments announced today will support a number of important initiatives and also help close the funding gap between Edmonton and Calgary, to support Edmonton's houseless folks," Sohi said.
Two new long-term treatment facilities were also announced, with the first 75-bed co-ed facility to be operational in Edmonton by the end of 2023, and a second to open in Calgary by early 2024.
As part of the 2022-23 budget, a new Service Hub Model will be piloted at two shelters in Edmonton and Calgary. The hubs will offer on-site services and facilitate access to detox and addiction treatment, financial support, health care and harm reduction services. The six-month pilots will cost a combined $2.5 million and begin this fall.
Additionally, the plan's addictions model includes $65 million for two recovery communities in Edmonton and Calgary, and will eliminate daily user fees for residential addiction treatment. Addiction funding will also go to outreach and harm reduction teams in Calgary and Edmonton.
The Alberta government said it will also cover costs for the opioid addiction drug Sublocade and spend $12 million on therapeutic living units in correctional facilities.
"We have to break the cycle. The goal is to connect inmates with addiction treatment support while they are still incarcerated and provide them with a clear path to recovery," Premier Jason Kenney said.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek watched the provincial announcement with others from the old City Hall.
"My council colleagues and I are pleased to see a coordinated response to the intersectional crisis that Calgarians in positions of vulnerability are facing," she said. "On the homelessness side, expanding shelter service to be 24/7 is huge. That's very significant for both cities."
Gondek added that while Edmonton is receiving more funding, it's only correcting historical inequities.
City council recently moved to update the Calgary shelter system.
But Saturday's announcement still drew questions.
The UCP's recovery-oriented approach to addictions has been heavily opposed in the past, with many arguing it's a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn't address the individual.
"Do (the city and province) have, ideologically, a common path forward? Probably not. There are people that believe in harm reduction and others that do not," Gondek said. "There are people who will tell you a toxic supply is the issue and others who will not."
Kenney did not mention the toxic supply Saturday.
"We support a continuum of care that includes discrete harm reduction," Kenney said. "But unlike the hopeless view of some, we believe that recovery is possible."
Advocates still argue there needs to be a more nuanced plan.
Opposition housing critic Lori Sigurdson is one of them. She released a statement saying the province should "encourage treatment and recovery while also protecting lives with proven and well-established harm reduction services."
The NDP also wrote that previous provincial policy exacerbated market problems.
"The UCP has cut funding for housing and homelessness has exploded," Sigurdson said. "Buildings that could have started housing Albertans months ago are sitting empty because this government refuses to invest in operational funding for them."
"The money announced today does not even begin to address the deeper need for permanent supportive housing, social housing and affordable housing in this province."
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