A Better Crisis Response System in Calgary
The Calgary Police Service and The City of Calgary are working with community partners to transform the city’s crisis response system.
In October 2022, The Alex Community Health Centre (The Alex) was selected to deliver the Community Mobile Crisis Response (CMCR) pilot program. The pilot became operational in February 2023 in northeast Calgary in partnership with Calgary Police Service District 4 and in March 2023, the pilot expanded into District 5 to serve more Calgarians.
In this model, emergency calls to Calgary 911 are assessed to determine if they involve mental health or addiction issues and what type of emergency response is required.
“Getting people connected with the support or service that can best help them when they face a crisis or emergency makes all the difference,” says Mayor Jyoti Gondek. “Many situations that involve mental health and addiction issues require experts in those areas to help. This program will continue to support people in that process.”
Non-emergency mental health and addiction crisis calls are triaged to 211 Calgary, operated by Distress Centre Calgary. The 211 team is trained in crisis de-escalation, safety planning for suicide and self-harm situations, and they evaluate each call carefully and decide which resource will respond. If deemed appropriate, a CMCR team made up of a health care worker and a peer support worker from The Alex will be dispatched through 211 and will provide trauma-informed care to Calgarians in need of support due to mental or emotional distress. During the pilot phase of the program, a plain-clothes CPS officer will attend calls in partnership with the CMCR team.
“Experiencing a mental health or addictions related crisis is an urgent and distressing situation, but it often does not require a 911 or police response, and instead a community response,” says Robyn Romano, CEO at Distress Centre Calgary. “Ensuring people are easily connected with the hundreds of different social agencies and programs throughout our city, including The Alex, helps to improve outcomes and mitigates crises from escalating. Our frontline staff – the 211 Community Resource Specialists – are doing this everyday by providing compassionate and accessible navigation support to people going through some of the most difficult experiences of their lives.”
After the initial crisis call, the CMCR team provides continued case management and follow up support through The Alex, to facilitate and address long-term needs and social service referrals. The goal of this approach is to reduce crisis recurrences through continued connection.
“We’re seeing positive results in interactions and outcomes with people who are experiencing mental health concerns, addictions or other similar challenges. The calls CMCR teams are attending would previously have been dispatched to police. Triaging calls to the CMCR teams helps deliver critical support to Calgarians in crisis by providing the right resource, to the right person, at the right time. It also helps us to direct our resources to calls that require a police response,” says Deputy Chief Katie McLellan of the Calgary Police Service.
“Through The Alex’s collaborative partnerships, this coordinated approach to crisis response is already reducing barriers and systemic stigma by offering critical mental health support that meets the needs of those experiencing crisis. After intensive preparation, CMCR team members are developing strong relationships within the community,” says Jennifer Eyford, Associate Director Mental Health, Addictions and Outreach at The Alex. “We’re moving the needle for our community and beginning to see a positive impact on the current state of crisis response in our city.”
In seeking support, Calgarians can contact 211 directly for non-emergency instances when yourself or others are experiencing mental health and/or addictions crisis, or crisis relating to housing, income or basic needs. For emergencies, contact Calgary 911.
The CMCR pilot is made possible through funding from The Community Safety Investment Framework, a collaborative effort between The City of Calgary and the Calgary Police Service to improve support for Calgarians experiencing crisis.
Visit calgary.ca/connectthedots for more information about Calgary’s response to mental health and addiction and the Community Safety Investment Framework.