Calgary boosts funding for crisis response and mental health calls

In an effort to improve the outcome of crisis response and mental health calls, the City of Calgary and the Calgary Police Service (CPS) are increasing funding to dozens of community groups and initiatives.

The funding comes after discussions during the city's budget deliberations to reallocate some of CPS' budget to better address mental health calls and complex responses. It's part of the police service's anti-racism work, but some community advocates say this step falls short.

"If you're still going to go through an anti-racist lens, where's the Black-led organizations? So, we're like 'they're definitely lacking and how did they pick these organizations?'," said Leslyn Joseph with the group Defund2Fund Coalition in Calgary.

The city is putting up $8 million from its reserves and the other $8 million is coming from the service.

"Eight million (from the police) is definitely not enough," Joseph added.

"So we're hoping that the community investment framework portion from the city will make up the difference and go a little further."

Joseph acknowledged the funding recipients are worthy and needed the funding boost, but she says her group would have preferred to see more new initiatives rather than seeing most of the money go to programs that already exist.

"Support is needed now more than ever," said Mayor Naheed Nenshi, noting the impact the pandemic and economic downturn has had on many.

Around $11 million of $16 million has already been handed out to organizations such as Alpha House, CUPS Calgary, the Distress Centre and Alberta Health Service's Police & Crisis and Mobile Response Teams (MRT). 

"Today's announcement is a direct response from Calgarians and council to enhance our response to people in crisis," said Chief Mark Neufeld.

Just over $300,000 will help AHS' Mobile Response Team double its staffing and provide 24/7 coverage, Chief Neufeld said. The MRT operates as a "mental health crisis triage" for complex calls and provides police officers with help from AHS clinicians as needed. 

One of the biggest recipients is the Alpha House Society's Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership, otherwise known as the DOAP team. More than $2.8 million will help add five more teams to the DOAP program, which "provides trauma-informed, culturally aware, and timely service that reaches individuals struggling with substance use at the street level."

Another $360,000 from the city's portion of the funding will go to a research project by the Centre for Suicide Prevention that will look to improve the city's crisis response system. 

Dozens of programs and organizations are receiving a portion of the money. You can find a list of the city's funding here and the funding breakdown from the CPS budget here.