Record Spike in Saskatoon’s Mental Health and Addiction Service Calls Amid Falling Resources

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Over the course of this year’s summer months, Saskatoon’s community support officers reported an unprecedented spike in service calls predominantly pertaining to issues of mental health and addiction, despite a marked decline in available support services.

According to an assessment by Rob Garrison, the supervisor of the community support program, his staff registered an unprecedented tally of 367 service requests in June alone, with a near-equivalent quantity in August. The report further underscores the mounting apprehensions amidst the staff and local enterprises concerning the pervasive incidence of drug use throughout their service areas.

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Garrison penned in his report for the city’s street activity committee, quite alarmingly that open drug consumption has gained rampant proportions in their patrol regions. Frequent encounters with persons injecting or inhaling drugs are commonplace, often reporting them for suspicious behavior involving illicit drug use in commercial vicinity doorways and parking lots.

Due to this rampant drug use, it has become commonplace for property owners to find themselves clearing away needles and other drug paraphernalia as stated in the report.

In an ideal scenario, community support officers would be addressing the city’s core social issues by channeling individuals towards varied social, health, and housing services, but the dearth of resources to address the needs of the city’s most vulnerable, especially ‘hard to house’ women, has left them in a challenging situation.

“There is an immediate and significant necessity to bolster existing services for women to ensure their safety,” Garrison argued. “Despite our concerted efforts, we have found that the available services to these vulnerable individuals are decreasing rather than increasing.”

The situation is equally grim for the Saskatoon police as per the city’s board of police commissioners, facing identical shortages in support services. In August, the board responded with a plea to Saskatchewan’s ministers of Health, Mental Health and Addictions, and Social Services, appealing for the establishment of new facilities and support measures for those with complex needs.

The solicitation cited that due to inadequate housing and facilities, police officials are frequently finding themselves with no alternative but to release individuals back into the community devoid of any form of support, an issue that the Saskatchewan government has pledged to address by committing what it calls record funds for mental health and addiction services, inclusive of expansion of addiction treatment spaces and an extended pilot program for overdose outreach teams.

Despite this commitment from the provincial government, Saskatoon has clocked record numbers of homeless encampments within the city this year, with the fire department identifying an alarming 452 such settlements as of August 1. A meeting has been scheduled for the street activity subcommittee on Wednesday, September 20.