Drug-use site won’t close: Nen­shi

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Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi says there is a “path for­ward” to ad­dress the con­cerns of res­i­dents liv­ing near the city’s only su­per­vised drug-con­sump­tion site, but it won’t in­clude clos­ing the fa­cil­ity in the midst of a drug cri­sis.“No. Not now. There are many, many, many in­ter­ven­tions to look at be­fore we get there,” Nen­shi said Thurs­day.“If we are able to do a bunch (of ) short-term things to make sure that the com­mu­nity is not bear­ing the brunt of this, then that gives us the space with the com­mu­nity to fig­ure out longer-term so­lu­tions.”Nen­shi’s com­ments come on the heels of a day­long hear­ing at city hall where Belt­line res­i­dents, law en­force­ment and health of­fi­cials dis­cussed a rise in crime and so­cial dis­or­der sur­round­ing the Safe­works site at the Shel­don M. Chu­mir Cen­tre.The emo­tion­ally charged meet­ing saw res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers vent­ing their frus­tra­tions and shar­ing sto­ries about vi­o­lent en­coun­ters and open drug use in the neigh­bour­hood.Some called on au­thor­i­ties to make changes to im­prove safety; oth­ers sug­gested the site should be shut down al­to­gether, with one an­gry res­i­dent de­scrib­ing it as a “failed ex­per­i­ment.”But health ex­perts ar­gue the site has been in­stru­men­tal in keep­ing hun­dreds of Cal­gar­i­ans alive: More than 850 over­doses have been re­versed since the site opened in 2017.“That’s the statis­tic that can’t get lost in this, is that there were hun­dreds of over­doses pre­vented. That’s not a po­lit­i­cal talk­ing point; that’s a health in­di­ca­tor. There were hun­dreds of over­doses pre­vented — and that the con­ver­sa­tion is any­thing but that is con­cern­ing,” said Dr. Hak­ique Vi­rani, an ad­dic­tion medicine spe­cial­ist.The height­ened crit­i­cism of the Belt­line fa­cil­ity comes at a par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive time.The Chu­mir site re­cently saw the re­newal of its ex­empted sta­tus un­der the Con­trolled Drugs and Sub­stances Act for an­other year — though the fed­eral gov­ern­ment chose to im­pose a num­ber of con­di­tions in re­sponse to a doc­u­mented spike in crime in the neigh­bour­hood.Health Canada said au­thor­i­ties must ad­dress the nee­dle de­bris and neigh­bour­hood safety is­sues raised by Cal­gary po­lice in a Jan­uary sta­tis­ti­cal re­port.The fed­eral gov­ern­ment said it would re­view the ex­emp­tion for the Chu­mir site again in four months.Health sci­ences pro­fes­sor Re­becca Haines-Saah said while it’s im­por­tant not to dis­miss the con­cerns of the com­mu­nity, she’s wor­ried there’s an or­ga­nized ef­fort afoot to shut down the site.“I’ve said be­fore that if we shut down this place, it wouldn’t end crime, it wouldn’t end drug-re­lated trans­ac­tions and the harms we see when peo­ple are us­ing drugs in open spa­ces,” Saah said. “So I don’t know what they think will hap­pen if this closes down. It will just shift it to an­other area and an­other neigh­bour­hood.”Nen­shi called the sto­ries shared at Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing “heart­break­ing,” but pointed out that many of the peo­ple who spoke were still sup­port­ive of the harm-re­duc­tion strat­egy, de­spite the dif­fi­cul­ties they had ex­pe­ri­enced.“Cer­tainly there’s an op­por­tu­nity for a knee-jerk re­ac­tion that says harm re­duc­tion leads to so­cial dis­or­der, (so) just get rid of the safe con­sump­tion sites and ev­ery­thing will be fine — and we know that’s not true,” Nen­shi said.“While we have to make sure that we’re work­ing on the so­cial dis­or­der piece and do­ing so thought­fully, we also have to make space for (the) longer-term so­lu­tions: pre­ven­tion, treat­ment and en­force­ment. Harm re­duc­tion can­not live alone, you have to have all four of those pieces to­gether.”On Feb. 25, city coun­cil will de­bate a plan to im­ple­ment about a dozen ur­gent, short-term mea­sures to ad­dress the spike in crime within a 250-me­tre zone of the Safe­works site.Among the mea­sures un­der con­sid­er­a­tion is an ex­panded down­town out­reach ad­dic­tion part­ner­ship (DOAP) pro­gram ded­i­cated to the area, on-site psy­chol­o­gists and psy­chi­a­trists at the su­per­vised con­sump­tion site, and daily nee­dle cleanups with a cer­tain ra­dius of the site.Al­berta Health Ser­vices, which op­er­ates Safe­works, said Thurs­day its se­cu­rity ser­vice is staffed 24/7 in­side and out­side of the su­per­vised con­sump­tion site and that pa­trols have been stepped up in the area.“AHS will also be en­gag­ing the Com­mu­nity Li­ai­son Com­mit­tee to dis­cuss so­lu­tions to im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween AHS and the com­mu­nity,” the health au­thor­ity said in a state­ment to Post­media.

Na­heed Nen­shi

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