Filling the gap – exploring a lack of local social resources
This is part one of a series that will explore the various social needs of the community and help to determine what is being done to address those needs.
With all of the amenities and services that Lacombe offers, there are some major deficits in the community.
Lacombe is home to nearly 13,000 residents. It has a handful of schools, many parks, a hospital, recreation facilities and even its own police force.
Curious though that the City does not yet have an emergency shelter, a women’s outreach facility, addictions intake services or domestic violence shelters. How does a city of such a population manage without these services available?
There are examples of social assistance peppered into the community – Neighbourhood Place, Family & Community Support Services (FCSS), Victim Services and the Lacombe Foundation.
However, these services are not able to meet all the demands of the Lacombe and area community so many of these issues are outsourced to Red Deer agencies. To identify and address some of the needs in the community, a program was created at the Lacombe FCSS – the Community Outreach Program, led by Judy Pyra.
“When I assess someone, they are coming through the door for various reasons. They may be coming for financial support, for referral services to mental health or they could also be coming in for counselling. I now have a number of counselling clients and it’s the first time that this agency is able to offer that. That’s a huge plus,” Pyra said.
“When someone comes in to see me, I am assessing. I am assessing their most basic needs. I work in collaboration with schools, mental health services, medical services and the police. You name it, we see it.”
Pyra has an extensive background as a registered social worker.
She has worked in a variety of social work fields, from police, to working with youths to government positions. Her experience has given her an ideal perspective to assess the needs of the Lacombe and area community.
After only a short while in her position, Pyra has taken on the task of tracking intake information for the Outreach Program. This means she is taking record of a variety of demographics – age, gender, income levels, etc. – to better determine what needs are not being met in Lacombe, and who is being affected by the deficit.
“I don’t want to pick on Central Alberta, but large centres like Edmonton and Calgary have greater resources. Even finding work in a human service field here is very difficult because there aren’t a lot of dollars for human services providers,” she said.
“Human services agencies are always struggling for income support – it’s a constant struggle. As a society, we don’t really value marginalized people, and we don’t particularly value children, interestingly enough,” she said.
“It’s youth, single parents, the homeless, people with addictions and people with mental health issues that really struggle.”
What services, then, are available for youth, single parents, the homeless, addicts and those struggling with mental health issues? Not much within Lacombe, she said.
Pyra sees all of these issues and more through her intake and position as the only resident FCSS counsellor. She said for most of these issues there is no dedicated service available within the City and that most people are sent to facilities in Red Deer.
“The first involvement a person would likely have in an emergency situation in Lacombe is with the police or Victim Services,” she said.
Right there, issues arise, she added.
First, Lacombe Police are not addictions counsellors, are not equipped to deal with all mental health issues and they do not have a facility to house the homeless or domestic violence victims.
Victim Services is a dedicated group of volunteers – but they are not counsellors, registered social workers, or authorities on mental health and wellness. They are volunteers who have received some training, but are really there for emotional support.
“The volunteers at Victim Services could drive a person into Red Deer for Women’s Outreach or whatever, but to go anywhere in Lacombe is non-existent,” Pyra said.
Meanwhile, there are issues in the community that are not being addressed adequately – domestic violence, addictions and mental health services and affordable housing are among the top priorities.