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a homeless encampment in Edmonton covered in snow with the city in the background
City News

Everyone Deserves A Warm Bed When They’re Sick

There were almost 3,000 Albertans experiencing homelessness at the beginning of January. Alberta is hoping to change this

Homelessness isn’t a choice. It is a reality that thousands of Albertans wake up to every day. In Edmonton alone, there were almost 3,000 Albertans experiencing homelessness in January.

But there’s far more to homelessness than what can be seen through our truck window as we pass by. Without a place to call home, Albertans experiencing long-term homelessness are vulnerable to challenges like mental illness and addiction.

That’s why the homeless population is more likely to be hospitalized or visit the emergency department.

But what happens to homeless people when they are released from the hospital?

In most cases, they end up on the streets or in shelters.

Alberta is looking to change this outcome in Edmonton through a pilot program. This program will provide transition beds for homeless patients after they are released from hospital emergency departments.

“Providing people with housing after they are discharged from an emergency department means they have one less thing to worry about while they’re healing…We know that there are significant demands on our emergency departments, and this partnership will serve the dual benefits of improving health outcomes while also ensuring that wait times are improved,” said Alberta Premier Danielle Smith during a news conference.

The program goes by the name of the Bridge Healing Transition Accommodation (BHTA) program. While the name is a mouthful, the idea is pretty simple.

Instead of discharging homeless patients back into homelessness, the program will provide beds and support to help clients find permanent housing.

Program support will include things like income, health, and addiction services. The BHTA was brought to life through a partnership between the Jasper Place Wellness Centre and Alberta Health Services (AHS).

The idea was brought to the AHS four years ago by Louis Francescutti, an emergency physician at the Edmonton Royal Alexandra Hospital.

Graduate students at the University of Alberta, where Dr. Francescutti teaches, came up with the idea. But the concept wasn’t put on the fast track until Dr. John Cowell was appointed as AHS’ new Official Administrator.

“By establishing a more stable connection to ongoing healthcare services and other programming, we can improve the lives of these residents. At the same time, we believe that by supporting them out in the community, we can prevent future emergency department visits,” said Dr. Cowell during a news conference. 

The BHTA program will make 12 of 36 beds available at a facility run by the Jasper Wellness Center. According to Smith, the program could start accepting clients soon if things go smoothly.

Dr. Francescutti said the program would move patients in a 30-day cycle to make the program as available as possible.

While this is a step in the right direction, homelessness doesn’t just exist in Edmonton; it’s a province-wide issue. We need to address Alberta’s crisis of affordable housing. Everyone deserves a roof over their heads.

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