WHEREAS the Government of Alberta is providing $187 million to address addiction, homelessness, and mental health in Alberta’s large urban centres; and
WHEREAS rural areas have not received a comparable level of training, support, funds, or resources to address addiction, homelessness, and mental health; and
WHEREAS every Albertan, no matter their circumstance, deserves the opportunity to pursue recovery from addiction, and pre-treatment programs can serve as a bridge between detox and treatment for those seeking recovery from addiction; and
WHEREAS the most common factors contributing to persons being homeless are lack of money, unaffordable rent or mortgage, mental health struggles, addictions, medical conditions and job loss; and
WHEREAS there has been a steady increase in the need for shelter spaces in rural communities with limited resources available locally;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta advocate to the Government of Alberta to provide funding to rural municipalities and community service organizations to address the issues of addiction, homelessness and public safety, and build on the province’s recovery-oriented system of addiction and mental health care at a level similar to the funding provided to Edmonton, Calgary and other large urban centres in late 2022.
Addiction and mental health issues are exacerbated in rural areas as there is generally a large geographical area to cover. As a result, people have to travel further for treatment and wait longer for services. Rural areas also require more workers and funding per capita than is needed in the urban centres for supporting and treating mental health and addiction.
The total number of emergency department visits in Peace River and area (six hospitals) in 2021/2022 that had an addiction/mental health presentation were over 2000, with 1400 of those visits being mental health related and 600 substance related. In 2022, the Peace River RCMP detachment made 62 transfers (a 135% increase from the previous year) to convey a person with addiction/mental health presentation to a designated facility in Grande Prairie and/or Edmonton. This uses up many hours of the officers’ time, in addition to the many hours responding to call outs from the public on these persons. When it comes to homelessness and understanding its causes, the larger urban experience tends to dominate the conversation due to the “visibility” of individuals experiencing homelessness. The issue of homelessness within rural and remote areas is far less understood or even acknowledged by the wider public because of its “hidden” nature. Individuals experiencing housing insecurity in rural and remote communities are more likely to couch surf, live in overcrowded housing, or own/rent housing that may need major repairs, often leveraging the relationships around them for support. The lack of available, accurate, and current data on rural homelessness limits the ability of rural communities to advocate for better resources for their residents in greatest need.
The shelter in Peace River has 15-20 people staying there every night and this number is steadily increasing. In Peace River, when persons are released from the Peace River Correctional Center they are provided with transport into the downtown core and end up at the shelter, due to extenuating factors, which greatly increases the number of homeless in the area. In December 2022, there were 56 persons transported to Peace River from the Correctional Center.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Mental Health and Addiction
The Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction is focused on supporting Albertans’ overall wellness and establishing a recovery-oriented provincial approach to address mental health and addiction issues, which provides access to a continuum of services and supports that incorporates prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery.
There are a number of mental health and addiction supports available to all Albertans, including those in rural areas. This includes Alberta 211. which provides information, referrals and crisis support via telephone, text, chat and website, including mental health and addiction referrals and resources.
The Virtual Opioid Dependency Program (VODP), a service which connects individuals to opioid agonist treatment and other supports via videoconferencing with a physician, is also available across the province, particularly for those in rural areas. The VODP also has a specific Transition Team, which includes a focus on supporting those leaving provincial correctional facilities, such as the Peace River Correctional Centre.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Rural Distress Line (1-800-232-7288) provides a 24-hour crisis intervention service, which is available to support rural populations. Provincial funding is also provided to CMHA to improve community-led mental health supports in rural areas through the Rural Mental Health Project. Through this project, 150 rural communities across Alberta are implementing local action plans to improve addiction and mental health services.
Alberta’s government is also funding Counselling Alberta to provide virtual mental health counselling services across Alberta, including rural communities. Counselling Alberta also partners with local organizations across the province to provide affordable in-person mental health counselling options.
For links to other addiction and mental health programs, services, resources and tools, you can also visit the Alberta Health Services Addiction and Mental Health Information for Albertans webpage. The Government of Alberta Addiction and Mental Health webpage also provides additional Information on addiction and mental health services In Alberta.
Regarding homelessness, addressing It is a shared responsibility requiring a co-ordinated approach between all levels of government and multiple sectors including primary health, mental health and addiction, justice and income support, businesses and neighbourhoods.
Released in October 2022, the Government of Alberta’s Action Plan on Homelessness included an additional $9 million to support 24-7 operations in shelters. It also included $9 million for additional winter shelter spaces in communities where there is urgent need. Of this funding, $3 million was allocated to support rural communities to offer temporary shelter spaces for the winter months.
The Government of Alberta’s (GOA’s) response to this resolution focuses on various existing mental health supports available for Albertans, including those living in rural areas. However, the response does not indicate that the GOA will take any additional efforts to ensure that rural Alberta has the same access to funding for mental health, addiction, and homelessness that was provided to cities such as Edmonton and Calgary in 2022.
RMA will continue to advocate for more support within rural Alberta and community service organizations that work tirelessly to assist residents struggling with mental health, addictions, and homelessness. Given that the resolution has not been addressed or actioned, RMA assigns this resolution the status of Intent Not Met.