Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht is convinced the former remand centre, downtown at 96 street and 103A ave would make a suitable location for the wellness centre he’s been promoting for several years. He’s even brought some private money on board to help with the conversion, yet he can’t get the bureaucratic go ahead to make it happen.
Boyle Street Community Services has promoted a facility with wrap around services to help the homeless with addiction issues and mental illness. However hopes that it would have been included in the spring budget at the Legislature were dashed.
Knecht has worked connections in the private sector to try to get the ball rolling. I’ve talked to philanthropists in this city who will support it. They’ll actually volunteer their people, contractors to come in and refresh that place.
“I’ve talked to ministers. I’ve talked to people in the community that are supportive of that. I am perplexed why it has taken so long for us to get this off the ground, because everybody I’ve talked to said it’s a good idea. It’s just that it requires some collective will.”
“I have toured the remand centre,” he told reporters at his semi-regular ‘coffee with the chief’ get together. “The first and second floor of that remand centre could be any building in this city.”
“It has a dental facility, a medical facility, it has a gymnasium. It has a fully serviced kitchen facility there. It has everything a person would need to get healthy or be healthy and stay healthy.”
Knecht has long supported having several agencies share in dealing with the mentally ill, so expensive police resources aren’t tied up on repeat calls. He said his early days in policing gave him good insight into how to break the cycle of addiction.
“In my role as an undercover operator I bought heroin. I socialized with those people every single day, from sunrise to sunset. I know how they think and the last thing they worry about is getting off their drugs. They worry about their next fix. None of them like being an addict. Nobody likes being an addict. They want to get better. They want to reconnect with family. They want to reconnect with their life.”
Addiction issues are gaining more attention, as local Chinatown residents continue to protest a series of supervised injection sites in the immediate area. Knecht said he sympathizes with them, and thinks a solution can be found. “You talk to the people that are protesting this, I think that they’re not immovable.”
“They have a position. They appreciate the position of the addict and I think if everybody works together here we’ll get to a better place and Edmonton will get it right. But I don’t think we want to go off half-cocked and I worry about that sometimes.”
City council, by a 10-1 vote has taken the next step to have Health Canada and the federal government review the installation of safe sites at Boyle Street Services, the George Spady Centre, and the McCauley Health Clinic, as well as the main site at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.