March 26, 2019

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Alliance proposal a little close to home for Main Street Project

Although a new multimillion-dollar plan for a mental health and addictions-focused drop-in facility is similar to the expansion proposal for Main Street Project, advocates say both concepts can exist and work in sync.

Rick Lees, executive director of the Main Street Project, said he was part of the Community Wellness and Public Safety Alliance’s consultation process over the past three years, but didn’t see its finalized business plan until this week.

"In a way, I’m glad I haven’t read it, because I can’t be accused of plagiarism or stealing an idea," Lees joked in an interview Wednesday.

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Although a new multimillion-dollar plan for a mental health and addictions-focused drop-in facility is similar to the expansion proposal for Main Street Project, advocates say both concepts can exist and work in sync.

Rick Lees, executive director of the Main Street Project, said he was part of the Community Wellness and Public Safety Alliance’s consultation process over the past three years, but didn’t see its finalized business plan until this week.

"In a way, I’m glad I haven’t read it, because I can’t be accused of plagiarism or stealing an idea," Lees joked in an interview Wednesday.

Last year, Main Street began lobbying for funding from all three levels of government to expand its footprint into the former Mitchell Fabrics building on Main Street at Logan Ave. The Winnipeg non-profit has also launched a capital campaign looking for more donations, and estimates the project will cost about $12 million.

Rick Lees, executive director of the Main Street Project, in the warming shelter on Main St. which is part of the old Mitchell Fabrics store.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Rick Lees, executive director of the Main Street Project, in the warming shelter on Main St. which is part of the old Mitchell Fabrics store.

Lees said the Alliance’s plan bears similarities to Main Street’s proposed expansion, except Main Street provides shelter spaces for vulnerable people, which the Alliance’s facility wouldn’t do.

He did express concerns about the cost of the Alliance’s planned project, which might encroach on other non-profits’ funding from government in an environment rife with competition.The cost of constructing the Alliance facility is $39 million, while annual operating costs are pegged at $29 million.

"I would say Main Street’s been off in the corner here waving for a long time at government to say, ‘We’re over here. We have the expertise to deal with this population... What we have is aging facilities and no budget change in 15 years. Look at us because we can help,'" Lees said.

'We have the expertise to deal with this population... What we have is aging facilities and no budget change in 15 years. Look at us because we can help' – Rick Lees, executive director of the Main Street Project

"Everyone’s so focused on the big, new, shiny thing they want to build, they don’t hear that. And I’m not just saying Main Street, I’m saying there’s all kinds of us (non-profits) that are out there doing that, and they’re ignoring that because they feel like they want to replace what’s there with something better and new," he said of government's decision-making process.

Main Street Project, which takes in clients who have consumed alcohol or drugs, is a community health centre that gives vulnerable people access to paramedics and harm-reduction supplies. It also has a detox centre and 34 transitional housing beds.

Lees made a presentation to Winnipeg city hall's executive policy committee this week, asking for an extra $80,000 in funding in its upcoming municipal budget. He has made the same pitch over the last four years, but never got the full amount.

Main Street Project is a wet shelter and a community health centre that has a detox centre as well as 34 transitional housing beds.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Main Street Project is a wet shelter and a community health centre that has a detox centre as well as 34 transitional housing beds.

"We have a mainstay residence that helps 34 people that was built in 1993 to primarily deal with housing. Fast forward to 2019, and the housing’s not (all) we do. What we’re dealing with is mental health and addiction 90 per cent of the time," he said of the non-profit's need.

Any extra cash would help Main Street hire more support workers and install a cognitive behavioural therapy program, Lees noted.

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service deputy chief Christian Schmidt, a co-chairman with the Alliance, said Main Street’s — and many other non-profits’ — input on its proposal has been valuable. And although the Alliance doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, when it comes to mental health and addictions treatment, it still wants to fill a void.

'Everyone’s so focused on the big, new, shiny thing they want to build... there’s all kinds of us (non-profits) that are out there doing that, and they’re ignoring that because they feel like they want to replace what’s there with something better and new' – Rick Lees

"As hard as all these agencies try to work independently on their own, we still have gaps. And what this plan is hopefully going to do is bring this all together and fill the gaps," Schmidt said.

One of the major components the Alliance hopes to include in its facility is a managed alcohol program, which doesn’t currently exist in Manitoba. The program would give people with addictions scheduled access to small doses of alcohol per day, to manage their health problems and avoid consuming chemicals to get their fix.

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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History

Updated on Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 10:05 PM CDT: Adds costs associated with the Alliance facility

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