The Rising Tide project to help the ‘toughest’ cases needs at least $4 million from the NB government
Dale Hicks has taken Rising Tide’s proposal to the New Brunswick premier’s office in hopes of securing at least $4 million for a new building in Moncton that will include a medical clinic, 20 apartments and 24-hour service Support would include the “hardest house” people living on the streets.
“It’s the people out there in the community who are pushing the carts around, and they need serious support services and clinical services,” Hicks said. “So that’s who would go into this building.”
Hicks, a retired civil servant, said his job as Rising Tide’s chief executive officer is to “hunt money and negotiate with contractors” to create housing for those who need it.
To date, Rising Tide has relocated people in 87 housing units and is more than halfway to its goal of creating 162 housing units in the Moncton area.
Since the nonprofit welcomed its first tenants in December 2021, Hicks has learned a lot about where the gaps are in helping the hundreds left homeless.
“I didn’t realize until I looked into how desperate some of these cases are,” he said. “You can’t place people if they have severe mental health issues, drug addiction or alcohol — like they need to be somewhere in a clinical setting.”
Now he is concentrating on this project, which he hopes will become a new model for the province.
Health care project, housing construction
The proposal calls for a four-story “health center and residential center,” including space for the Salvus Clinic, which would be twice the current size. The organization provides medical services to people affected by homelessness, poverty, mental health problems and substance abuse.
The second floor of the new build would include offices and meeting rooms, while the third and fourth floors would each house 10 studio apartments with 24-hour security and care.
Hicks said there are a few dozen people in the community who are considered “high acuity” or “high acuity plus,” which refers to the level of support they need. While most tenants who moved into Rising Tide units have stayed, a handful have not managed to live on their own, he said.
“They create a security issue in the building, they are a threat to the tenants that are there, they are a security issue to the staff that go in,” he said. “You just can’t be in this environment. So these are the ones we need to evict.
“But we now realize they need to be somewhere else where they can get 24/7 care.”
Hicks said in many cases, “These individuals are not even welcome in shelters.”
The proposal for the new building provides space for a controlled alcohol program whereby individuals are prescribed a specific dose of alcohol at specific intervals – usually one beer an hour, to stave off withdrawal and stabilize their lives.
Hicks said the Salvus Clinic and Horizon Health are partners in the project and it is up to them to determine what programs will be offered.
“They are the experts,” he said. “I’d like 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 and how best to use it.”
Hicks believes that with the intense support that would be offered, people who would move in would become stable and staff could then “work with them.”
Rising Tide has already acquired land for the project. It is outside of the city center but close to public transport. The drawings have been completed and the project has been calculated. Hicks said all that is needed is a $4 million to $5 million pledge from the provincial government by March 20.
Medical approach required
CBC asked the Department of Health if Rising Tide’s proposal was a project that met the Department’s priorities and if it was being considered.
Health spokesman Sean Hatchard responded with a statement saying the department is interested in partnerships and is always looking for new ideas. He didn’t go into specifics about the Rising Tide project.
A spokesman for the Department for Social Development said discussions are ongoing with Rising Tide about the project and a decision on funding has not yet been made.
Timothy Christie is not involved in Rising Tide’s proposal but said the idea of a combined medical clinic and wet shelter with controlled consumption “sounds excellent”.
Christie is the Regional Director of Ethics Services at Horizon Health Network. He is also Associate Professor of Bioethics at Dalhousie University and Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Brunswick.
“In terms of harm reduction, I think we’re a little bit behind the rest of the country,” he said. “There is no excuse for not monitoring use and overdose prevention in all of our cities across the province.”
On the other hand, Christie said the province is doing a great job in providing methadone treatments and he hopes harm reduction in shelters will also improve over time.
He wants people to understand that supervised consumption, like a controlled alcohol program or a safe injection site, doesn’t mean people in soggy accommodations participate in some kind of “party scene.”
“The people we’re dealing with are mostly trying to avoid rehab and stay alive, and so it’s a medical issue, it’s not a party scene issue.”
Christie believes New Brunswick is in the midst of an overdose crisis and “we have an opportunity now to address it.”
Hicks said the proposal for the health clinic and residential center aligns with priorities identified by the Department of Health in its Interdepartmental Addiction and Mental Health Action Plan for 2021-2025.
The 12 priorities include “creating various forms of supportive housing for clients with addiction and mental health issues, including the implementation of a clinical counseling model”.
“I say yes, let’s talk about it,” Hicks said. “So if they don’t — my question is, ‘What are you going to do?’ Because these people are still roaming the streets needing help that is above our pay grade.”
“If not that – then what?”
Hicks has taken his proposal to several MLAs and Premier Blaine Higgs with the message that Rising Tide wants to partner with the province and is willing to pay half the cost of construction.
“Construction seems to be the obstacle… so we went back to the provinces to say we meet you halfway. We think we can get federal funding to support that, and that’s how it is now.”
Hicks has booked a ballroom at a Moncton hotel for March 20 in hopes of announcing the new project’s implementation.