The Government of Alberta has approved funding for a permanent 42 bed supportive housing complex and as many as 30 new intox spaces in an effort to address the ongoing issues of homelessness and opioid addiction in Lethbridge.

The housing complex project, which carries a price tag of $11 million, will provide support to homeless adults who have complex issues that may include substance abuse.

The province has also announced $1.6 million in funding for up to 30 new intox spaces in Lethbridge. The sites provide intoxicated people with a safe place to sober up and access service programs including housing and health care. Intox sites also reduce the disruptions neighbourhoods and businesses experience when intoxicated individuals are present.

“I know we have a crisis because I can see the growing homelessness and overdose rates that are very high compared to other cities in Lethbridge,” said Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West. “We also have a homelessness issue, we have issues related to petty crime, we have issues related to the vibrancy and safety in the downtown.”

“In all of that, the province needs to respond.”

The devastating fallout from the opioid crisis has been prevalent in Lethbridge for years and continues to expand within the community.

“The current trends seem to indicate this is getting worse,” explained Richard Hildebrand, Chief of Fire and Emergency Services for the City of Lethbridge. “The potency of these drugs and the uncertain natures of different batches of drugs that have come through has meant that we’ll go through spurts where we are attending dozens and dozens of these calls every day.”

According to the Government of Alberta, 17 people died in Lethbridge in the first six months of 2018 as a result of an apparent opioid overdose.

A supervised consumption site in the city has proven to be one of the busiest in Canada. The site, operated by ARCHES (AIDS Outreach Community Harm Reduction Education & Support Society), has been visited by clients more than 71,000 times since it opened in February 2018.  ARCHES staff reversed more than 620 overdoses in the consumption site’s first eight months of operations.

Chief Rob Davis of the Lethbridge Police Service says the housing complex and intox sites are positive steps but the opioid crisis will remain an uphill battle. “The announcements today do start to address some of the root causes to this problem and hopefully we can get ahead of it,” said Davis. “Until them, there’s no question we will continue to respond to these events, we will continue to lose some people in the community as a result of these opioid overdoses.”

The location of the new housing complex has not been determined and the province has not provided a planned timeline for its opening.

With files from CTV’s Terry Vogt