A day in the life on the streets out­side city’s safe drug-use site

PressReader - BRUCE_CAROL_ROWE Channel - A day in the life on the streets out­side city’s safe drug-use site
Lucky, it ap­pears, is not quite so lucky this day.She has just scored some fen­tanyl — what she calls “candy-coloured heroin” — and de­cides to light it up while chat­ting out­side rather than pop­ping into Safeworks — the con­tro­ver­sial safe con­sump­tion site at the Shel­don M. Chu­mir Health Cen­tre.She is stand­ing at the side of the his­toric First Bap­tist Church, a short jaunt across 13th Av­enue S.W. to Safeworks. Just as she fi­nally gets her lighter to stay lit in the brisk wind, two Cal­gary Po­lice Ser­vice con­sta­bles roll up silently on their moun­tain bikes and break up the hud­dle. Lucky’s be­nign-look­ing pink-coloured drug is con­fis­cated by a soft-spo­ken con­sta­ble who hand­cuffs Lucky so he can safely han­dle the drug that can be deadly even in small doses.Lucky re­mains calm. She doesn’t have any war­rants and says she has been clean for a month. She sits on the cold side­walk in her white jeans, ad­mir­ing her stylish knee-high black leather boots with their hot-pink soles.This is just one of at least eight po­lice pa­trols spot­ted over six hours on Thurs­day around the health fa­cil­ity on 4th Street S.W. be­tween 12th and 13th av­enues.If drug deal­ers are hanging around to sell to Safeworks’ clients, they do a good job of re­main­ing in­vis­i­ble. A steady stream of ad­dicts come and go. They go in through the filthy door, and out through an­other one. Some mill about be­fore or af­ter but se­cu­rity guards, who work for Al­berta Health Ser­vices, ask those loi­ter­ing to move along.“I think the in­creased po­lice pres­ence has spooked the deal­ers,” says Adrian, 27, a seven-year ad­dict who uses Safeworks twice a day to shoot up what he calls heroin but ad­mits is ac­tu­ally fen­tanyl.“Things have re­ally been cleaned up out here since early De­cem­ber,” adds Adrian. “I don’t have a prob­lem with that be­cause if bad stuff con­tin­ues to hap­pen around here there will be pres­sure to close Safeworks down, and then more peo­ple will die.”He’s right about that. In the 15 months that Safeworks has been op­er­at­ing, the agency says 800 over­doses were re­versed out of its more than 48,000 vis­its since it first opened its doors in Oc­to­ber 2017.He’s also right about a grow­ing cho­rus of up­set busi­ness own­ers and res­i­dents who ei­ther want Safeworks re­lo­cated or for a greater and sus­tained po­lice pres­ence around the site to help keep the deal­ers away and the users in­side.On Tues­day, the Cal­gary Po­lice Ser­vice re­leased a much-an­tic­i­pated re­port that shows that crime around the con­sump­tion site has spiked since Safeworks started pro­vid­ing a safe place for ad­dicts to in­gest their street drugs.While drug crimes in the rest of the city are de­clin­ing, the crime and dis­or­der re­port shows a 250-me­tre zone near Safeworks has seen a 276-per-cent in­crease in drug-re­lated calls to po­lice in 2018, along with a 29-per-cent rise in the over­all num­ber of calls for ser­vice com­pared with the three-year av­er­age.Vi­o­lence in the area is up nearly 50 per cent, while ve­hi­cle crime has in­creased 63 per cent. Break-and-en­ters are also up by more than 60 per cent and the to­tal num­ber of calls to po­lice jumped 36 per cent in 2018 com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year.Kar­lene Na­co­la­jsen, who works day shifts at Shelf Life Books on the east side of 4th Street across the street from the Shel­don Chu­mir Cen­tre, says the “so­cial dys­func­tion” has im­proved some­what in the past month or two.“We were find­ing used nee­dles in our wash­room and peo­ple were go­ing in there for half an hour, so we just keep it locked now and that has re­ally helped,” she said. “So has an in­creased po­lice pres­ence.”David McMechan, chair of the main­te­nance and fi­nance com­mit­tee at First Bap­tist Church, says the con­gre­ga­tion has had to put up a black metal fence around the church of­fice and park­ing lot to pro­tect con­gre­gants and vis­i­tors from “some anti-so­cial be­hav­iour and refuse.”“We ba­si­cally now check for nee­dles first thing ev­ery morn­ing and usu­ally find some,” says the dili­gent church vol­un­teer. “We’ve hired ca­nine se­cu­rity to make rounds four times a day, seven days a week and we’re putting in se­cu­rity cam­eras,” he said. Is he up­set?“No,” he says with a shrug. “Je­sus calls on us to love our neigh­bours and these vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple are our neigh­bours,” he says with a sweep of his hand to­ward about six men stand­ing out­side the Safeworks door. “We want to al­ways wel­come them and love them, but we also rec­og­nize that we are re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing our prop­erty safe for chil­dren and oth­ers who come here, so we have to do what we can. We’re try­ing to find the right balance.”Like Na­co­la­jsen, McMechan says he thinks things have im­proved some­what in the past month. In one week in Novem­ber, four peo­ple over­dosed in the church park­ing lot, which is trau­matic for vis­i­tors and staff. For­tu­nately, help is lit­er­ally just steps away.As for Lucky, the po­lice let her go free. When she sees me she runs over to give me a big hug. “Those were nice cops,” she says ex­cit­edly. “They let me go with a warn­ing. They’ll charge me if I use on the street again, so I’m not go­ing to do that any­more. I’ll go in­side next time.”Les­son learned. With her il­licit drugs seized, Lucky has de­cided to keep her ap­point­ment on the Chu­mir’s 8th floor where she is part of a pi­lot pro­gram — In­jectable Opi­oid Ago­nist Ther­apy (IOAT) — where she re­ceives free hy­dro­mor­phone three times a day un­der the su­per­vi­sion of med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als to help wean her off of street drugs. For Lucky, maybe get­ting arrested was lucky af­ter all.

David McMechan, chair of First Bap­tist Church’s main­te­nance and fi­nance com­mit­tee, stands in front of the new wrought-iron fenc­ing put up around the old manse. The fenc­ing has been in­stalled to pre­vent “some anti-so­cial be­hav­iour and refuse” on church grounds.

Moun­tain bike po­lice of­fi­cers arrest Lucky af­ter they catch her smok­ing fen­tanyl on the street across from Safeworks.

© PressReader. All rights reserved.