Calgary rolls out 16 pilot projects to tackle stigma around mental illness and addiction

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Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Wednesday that the projects are all “of the moment,” and focused on current problems in Calgary communities.

“We’re not interested in funding things . . . that have to wait until the COVID pandemic is over to be implemented,” he said. “It really is stuff that can get into place now.”

Nenshi said Calgarians were experiencing a mental-health and addictions crisis “even before the pandemic,” but the stress of the past six months has made action even more urgent.

The Calgary Counselling Centre has reported a “sky-high” level of referrals as people look for help coping with the challenges and unknowns of the pandemic.

The city called for “fast pilot” project submissions in late January and received 177 ideas. Some of the funding comes from money council set aside for Calgary’s new mental-health and addictions strategy in 2018, but several other organizations, including Calgary Health Trust and United Way of Calgary, contributed $275,000 for the pilot projects.

Two years ago, council voted to take $25 million from the city’s rainy-day reserve fund for the strategy, with $15 million going toward existing social services agencies and $10 million for new work.

Nenshi has said he wants to develop a “Calgary model” to address mental-health issues that can serve as an example to other communities.

Karen Gosbee helps lead the city’s 21-member stewardship group tasked with creating the overall strategy.

She said it’s crucial to make sure people know how to navigate the often complicated path to get help when they’re facing mental-health problems or addiction.

“All this work we’re doing is helping people to be able to become educated and familiar with what is going on, and to find out and know where to get the specific help they need.”

Twitter: @meksmith

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