Rural Alberta recovery centre for homeless men set to close by February

The McCullough Centre in Gunn, Alta., where up to 75 homeless men could receive support to recover from addictions or mental health issues, will be closed by February 2021.

Closure of McCullough Centre 'doesn't make any sense,' says NDP Opposition

The McCullough Centre in Gunn, Alta., could support up to 75 homeless men's recovery from addiction or mental health issues. (Michael Toepfer)

The McCullough Centre, where up to 75 homeless men can receive support to recover from addictions or mental health problems, will be closed by February 2021.

The 11 residents who currently live at the facility in Gunn, Alta., will transition to other community supports over the next few months, Alberta Community and Social Services said Monday in a statement. 

Intake had stopped at the centre in August 2019 in anticipation of the shutdown.

The centre's closure will save the province around $3 million a year, the statement said.

The facility's 63 employees no longer have positions, but some may be able to stay on with the ministry, the province said.

'People are very upset'

Michael Toepfer, a team lead at the centre, said he received his layoff notice last Wednesday, along with his colleagues.

"People are very upset," he told CBC in an interview Tuesday. "People are very shocked by this news."

The centre filled a gap in service by offering wraparound supports to men who may otherwise struggle to find help, Toepfer said. 

The McCullough Centre had a waiting list of 150 when intake stopped.

"It boggles my mind, frankly," Toepfer said. "Closing it while you have the existing infrastructure, you have staff, ... you have essentially anything and everything that that you could possibly need on site makes very little sense."

The previous NDP government funded the construction of a new building at the McCullough Centre. (Michael Toepfer)

A new building, constructed on site by the previous Alberta government, sits unused.

"That was completed earlier this year," Toepfer said. "It's sitting there and it's good to go and nobody knows what's going to happen to it." 

'Doesn't make any sense'

Heather Sweet, NDP Opposition critic for mental health and addictions, called the decision to close the McCullough Centre disturbing. 

"We are seeing an increase in the homelessness population in our major centres, we are seeing an increase in mental health and addictions among many Albertans during a global pandemic," Sweet said. 

"The fact that the government would make a decision to halt health care and treatment programs doesn't make any sense."

The closure is counter to the government's promise to create 400 additional treatment beds in the province, she said.

"They have said that they're going to invest in recovery centres and addictions and mental health, and yet they're shutting down that very service?"

The McCullough Centre, about 65 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, provides counselling for residents but is not a licensed addictions treatment facility, the province said.

Sweet said it could easily have become one.

"They could work with that facility and make sure that they are following the requirements of the current government philosophy, but instead they're just shutting it down."

She worries the closure could further limit access to mental health supports outside of major urban centres. 

"This is a rural Alberta service that supports rural Albertans and they need access to mental health and addiction services," said Sweet.