By Jensen, Randy on September 29, 2020.
Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addiction
We heard you, we investigated, we acted, and we have a plan. >
During the provincial election campaign, it was made clear to us at your doorstep that the way the ARCHES-operated supervised consumption site was being run in Lethbridge was the cause of many issues in the community. >
This was not just the case in Lethbridge, we heard the same thing at doors across the province. >
Only four months after being elected, in August 2019, we kept our promise to conduct a thorough socio-economic review of these sites and what we found was a system of chaos and confusion. >
Again, we heard that Lethbridge was not happy with the ARCHES consumption site – that something was wrong and the system lacked a constructive path forward.
After learning of possible fiscal mismanagement, we commissioned Deloitte to independently audit ARCHES. >
What they found was staggering – $1.6 million in unaccounted for funds, European travel, staff retreats and gift cards for board members, spurring a criminal investigation. >
Not only did ARCHES break the trust of the community, but they broke the trust of the government. After these revelations we could not in good conscience continue to provide nearly $7 million of taxpayer money a year to this organization.
On Aug. 17, at the direction of Alberta’s government, Alberta Health Services opened a temporary mobile overdose prevention site, and on Aug. 31, ARCHES ceased operation. >
The mobile site is in operation outside the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre, with more than enough capacity to meet the demand. Nobody has been turned away. The site has a 100 per cent success rate with no fatalities occurring at the site, >and the staff has made over 160 referrals to other support services in the area.
Our plan focuses on interacting with the clients and success is determined by how many people we connect with treatment, detox and other services, rather than simply on how many injections occur during the day.
To meet that goal, at the end of July, we also announced a comprehensive plan to support a long-term, holistic and comprehensive response to addiction in the city of Lethbridge.
$10 million will build 125 new beds in the region, 50 in Lethbridge County and 75 on the Kainai Nation near Standoff. >
We also announced $1.7 million annually for Foothills Centre to support 16 medical detox and transition beds. In addition, we will be adding 15 new detox beds within the city. >
All of these beds will be fully funded so any Albertan can access them without barrier.
We are also adding recovery coaches into the region, who will be tasked with connecting Albertans struggling with addiction to treatment and recovery and helping them navigate the system.
In addition, in January our government announced $11 million to build 42 new housing units for at-risk homeless in Lethbridge. And, in March, I announced alongside the Minister of Justice, the expansion of drug treatment courts for Lethbridge to break the cycle of addiction, in addition to new ALERT funding to combat the supply of illegal drugs. Lethbridge asked for a comprehensive continuum of care to replace the failed one-pillar approach of the previous government and we are delivering on that. >
Our approach to addiction is fair, firm and compassionate. >
Fair to the community. >
Firm in fighting the disease of addiction. >
And compassionate to those who are struggling with it. >
However, our efforts are met with activism, politics and a concerted effort to negate the hard work of our team.
As I am sure, many are aware this past weekend there has been an attempt by former ARCHES employees and other activists to provide unsanctioned, illegal consumption services in a tent. >Many of the financial contributions supporting this action come from Vancouver and Toronto.
First, my concern is for the safety and security of the citizens of Lethbridge, which includes those who are utilizing overdose prevention services.
There is no need for this service or the confusion that it stands to cause among those with addiction. For this vulnerable population, what they need are stable, safe, and effective services-which is exactly what Alberta Health Services provides merely one block away from the illegal tent, with adequate capacity for the community.
Marginalized people who may rely on overdose prevention services need to have stability and predictability. They need to know where the sanctioned services are and what to expect. We need them to come to these authorized services so that we can help keep them alive and refer them to detox, recovery and other live-saving supports.
If this group truly wanted to protect and support our fellow citizens who are not well, they would be directing them to legal health-care services, rather than creating chaos, confusion and using them as a political tool. Shameful.
Alberta’s government has a serious plan to help the citizens of Lethbridge. I am asking the good citizens of Lethbridge to join with our government in creating a system of care that will make everyone proud. A system where we work together for the betterment of each other.
Lives and livelihoods are on the line.