Rising Tide project to help 'hardest' cases needs at least $4M from N.B. government
Dale Hicks has set a March 20 deadline for province to commit to funding a new supportive housing project
Dale Hicks has taken Rising Tide's proposal all the way to the New Brunswick premier's office in hopes of securing at least $4 million for a new building in Moncton that would include a medical clinic, 20 apartments and support available at all hours for the "hardest to house" people living on the streets.
"It's the individuals that are out there in the community that are pushing the carts around, and they need some serious support services and clinical services," Hicks said. "So that's who would be going into this building."
Hicks, a retired civil servant, said his job as president of Rising Tide's board is "chasing money and dealing with contractors" in an effort to create housing for those who need it.
So far, Rising Tide has moved people into 87 units and is more than halfway to its goal of creating 162 housing units in the Moncton area.
Since the not-for-profit welcomed its first tenants in December 2021, Hicks has learned a lot about where the gaps are to helping the hundreds who remain homeless.
"I didn't realize until I got into this how some of these cases are pretty desperate," he said. "You can't house individuals if they have severe mental health, drug addiction, alcohol — like they need to be in a clinical setting somewhere."
Now, he is focused on this project, which he hopes will be a new model for the province.
Project to include health care, housing
The proposal is for a four-storey "health clinic and housing centre," including space for the Salvus Clinic, which would be twice what it currently has. The organization offers medical services to people experiencing homelessness, poverty, mental health problems and substance abuse.
The second floor of the new building would include offices and meeting rooms, while the third and fourth floors would each have 10 studio apartments with around-the-clock security and support.
Hicks said there are a few dozen people in the community considered "high acuity" or "high acuity plus," which refers to the level of support they need. While most tenants who have moved into Rising Tide units have remained housed, a handful haven't been successful in living on their own, he said.
"They cause a safety issue in the building, they're a menace to the tenants that are there, they're a safety concern for the staff that go in," he said. "They just can't be in that setting. So those are the ones we have to evict.
"But we're realizing now that they need to be somewhere else where they can get 7/24 care."
Hicks said in many cases "these individuals aren't even welcome in shelters."
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The proposal for the new building includes space for a managed alcohol program, where individuals are prescribed a specific dose of alcohol at specific intervals — usually one beer an hour in an effort to stave off withdrawal and stabilize their lives.
Hicks said the Salvus Clinic and Horizon Health would be partners in the project, and it would be up to them to determine what programs would be offered.
"They're the experts," he said. "I'd like to have about three of these [buildings] in the community, so they could do a variety of clinics, but they would have to decide on this one here and how they want to utilize it best."
Hicks believes that with the intense support that would be offered, people who move in would become stable and then staff could "work with them."
Rising Tide has already purchased land for the project. It is outside the downtown but near public transit. Drawings have been completed and the project has been costed out. Hicks said all that's needed is a commitment from the provincial government of between $4 million and $5 million by March 20.
Medical approach needed
CBC asked the Health Department if Rising Tide's proposal was a project that would fit the department's priorities and if it was being considered.
Health spokesperson Sean Hatchard replied with a statement that said the department is interested in partnerships and always looking for new ideas. He did not address the Rising Tide project in particular.
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Development says discussions about the project are going on with Rising Tide, and a decision on funding has not been made.
Timothy Christie isn't involved in Rising Tide's proposal but said the idea of a combined medical clinic and wet shelter with supervised consumption "sounds excellent."
Christie is regional director of ethics services with Horizon Health Network. He is also an adjunct professor of bioethics at Dalhousie University and an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of New Brunswick.
"In terms of harm reduction, I think we are a little bit behind the rest of the country," he said. "There's no excuse that we don't have supervised consumption and overdose prevention in all of our cities throughout the province."
On the other hand, Christie said the province is doing an excellent job in offering methadone treatment, and he is hopeful harm reduction at shelters will also improve over time.
He wants people to understand that supervised consumption, such as a managed alcohol program or safe injection site, does not mean people in wet shelters are taking part in some kind of "party scene."
"The people we're dealing with, most of them are trying to avoid withdrawal and stay alive and that's why it's a medical issue, it's not a party scene issue."
Christie believes New Brunswick is in an overdose crisis, and "we have the opportunity right now to address it."
Hicks said the proposal for the health clinic and housing centre fits in with the priorities outlined by the Department of Health in its Inter-Departmental Addiction and Mental Health Action Plan for 2021-2025.
The 12 priorities include "creation of various forms of supportive housing for addiction and mental health clients, including the implementation of a clinical consultation model."
"I'm saying well that's what we're talking about," Hicks said. "So if they don't do this — my question is, 'What are you going to do?' Because these individuals are still out roaming the streets and they need help and it's above our pay grade."
"If not this — then what?"
Hicks has taken his proposal to several MLAs and to Premier Blaine Higgs, with the message that Rising Tide wants to partner with the province and is ready to pay half the construction costs.
"Construction seems to be the the barrier … so we've gone back to the province to say we'll meet you halfway. We think we can get some federal funding to support that, and so that's where it stands now."
Hicks has booked a Moncton hotel ballroom for March 20 in hopes he will be able to announce the new project is going ahead.