Homeless-serving Sector Launches Innovative Partnership

Rapid Care Counselling quickly connects people to mental health support


COVID-19 has been hard on all of us, but imagine what it’s like when you don’t have a home and are experiencing mental health challenges, all at the same time.

People living without a home or in emergency shelters have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 measures. At the start of February 2021, there were 621 individuals experiencing homelessness, including singles, families, and youth, waiting for housing on Calgary’s triage list. Of these, 78.4 per cent identified mental health challenges or concerns.

“People living without a home are not otherwise okay—invariably, something else is always at play,” says Patricia Jones, President & CEO of Calgary Homeless Foundation.

A new partnership between Calgary Homeless Foundation, Catholic Family Services (CFS), and CUPS (Calgary Urban Project Society) is here to help. Rapid Care Counselling provides rapid access to tailored mental health supports for children, youth, adults, and families in our system of care.

It begins with a CFS team member meeting a participant in a single session to create a care plan that determines the supports they need next. These could include further sessions, connections to a range of community services, or referral into 6- or 12-session counselling with CUPS Shared Care Mental Health counsellors.

This collaboration matches each unique participant’s circumstance and the level of support they need, to get the right help at the right time. Designed to allow participants to connect with a qualified counsellor within just three business days, it provides easy access points that eliminate barriers and connects the client to the program as seamlessly as possible.

The impetus for Rapid Care Counselling arose when our colleagues on the front lines noticed an increase in mental health needs in the homelessness sector early on in the pandemic. We put out an RFP to gauge interest in providing mental health supports, and selected CUPS and CFS to combine forces. The Rapid Care Counselling fills gaps in access to this vital service.

“This pilot means that these individuals can rapidly connect with someone who will tell them they are seen, heard, and that there are people here to help,” says Jones. “This pilot is the first step in connecting the health, housing and homelessness sectors together and start to address the systemic issues contributing to someone’s experience of homelessness.”


“Doris” was a participant in a program that Calgary Homeless Foundation supports. She used substances to help her deal with multiple compounded traumas, and she was also on kidney dialysis. She wanted to overcome her addictions, become eligible for a kidney transplant, and be there to support her children and grandchildren.

Unfortunately, her need for multiple hospital visits every week for dialysis made her ineligible for addiction treatment programs. Program staff worked hard to schedule mental health appointments as long as they did not conflict with her dialysis appointments, but they were inconsistent, and Doris was unable to overcome her addictions.

A program like Rapid Care Counselling could have helped Doris by providing consistent supports that fit with her dialysis schedule. It could have helped her to process her grief and loss in a different way and potentially reduce her need for substances to help escape her trauma. It may or may not have saved her life—but it would have made the end of her life easier.