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Alberta Supports offices to reopen to walk-in clients April 4

FCSS offices “breathing a sigh of relief” says Town of Westlock Coun. Murtaza Jamaly
WES - 2022 winter AB Supports
Alberta Supports offices provincewide are slated to reopen April 4. The Town of Westlock has lobbied hard throughout the pandemic for their reopening.

WESTLOCK – Family and Community Support Services staffers and other community-services organizations provincewide are “breathing a sigh of relief” with news that Alberta Supports, the provincial government department that helps people access programs related to disabilities, employment, homelessness, financial assistance, abuse, and family violence prevention, will reopen to walk-in traffic April 4.

Town of Westlock Coun. Murtaza Jamaly told councillors at their March 14 regular meeting that he learned about the long-anticipated reopening from Alberta Community and Social Services Minister Jason Luan at the Alberta Municipalities spring leaders caucus last week, a revelation that ends nearly a year of advocacy and lobbying efforts on behalf of the municipality, with Jamaly at the forefront, to get the offices reopened to walk-in traffic.

Due to COVID-19, Alberta Supports offices have been shuttered since mid-to-late 2020 with clients having to access services either online or via the phone — options Jamaly has said previously limits access as the people who need help don’t always own a cellphone, or a computer with Internet access and are “falling through the gaps in the system.” In addition, the closure of the offices has placed more strain on organizations like FCSS and even the library, who stepped up to help those in need.

“It’s often very difficult to make a measured connection between the advocacy work we do and the outcome. Certainly, I’m frustrated with the process,” said Jamaly, who’s also the Westlock and District FCSS advisory board chair and sits on the FCSS AA.

“When we quantify all the things we’ve done as a municipality, what we’ve done as FCSS and what we’ve done as the Family and Community Support Services Association of Alberta … the data collection, the interaction with FCSS programs across the province, the letter writing, the engagement of MLAs from across the northeast region and the constant back and forth with the ministry … it’s hard when you feel like the work you’re doing is ineffectual.

“There was a lot of work that went into this and the minister did acknowledge that this (reopening) was the result of our advocacy and did acknowledge the FCSS AA having a role. So, in that way I’m pleased and feel it was a success. But I just feel for the individuals in the last 24 months who have lost access to the service and have fallen off the fringe.”

The continued provincewide closure of the offices was a hot-button issue for the municipality throughout the pandemic and was one of three “emergent resolutions” included with 19 discussed at the Alberta Municipalities fall convention last November in Edmonton — the resolution received 97.6 per cent approval from all of the province’s cities, towns, villages, summer villages and specialized municipalities. The town also lobbied local MLA Glenn van Dijken, with Jamaly noting the ministry was well aware of their stance and had “read all the articles in the local newspaper about the front you’ve been putting up.”

Jamaly said when offices do reopen, they’ll offer a hybrid service that will combine elements of the phone/Internet service and include face-to-face support for people who need it. Alberta Supports offices briefly reopened for four days in September 2021 but didn’t accept walk-in clientele.

“I think there’s been a fair amount of collateral damage in the past 24 months that we’ll have to try and pick up the pieces from. I just want to see the process improve,” said Jamaly. “I’ve spoken to the Edmonton FCSS director and she has many staff who are burnt out and have nothing left to give. This shouldn’t have taken two years, so hopefully it’s a lesson learned.”

Jamaly was also told that offices were initially shuttered as the staff weren’t deemed “essential” — changing that designation would require tweaks to provincial legislation. And although the province’s mandatory work-from-home order lifted March 1 and there was hope the offices would reopen then, Jamaly was told many government departments weren’t ready.

“I didn’t really accept that as a response. But they said it was a cross-ministry problem,” he said.

George Blais,

George Blais

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