Drug-use site won’t close: Nenshi
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.
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