KEEP­ING DRUG-USE SITE SAFE

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The prov­ince has com­mit­ted $200,000 to cre­ate a team tasked with re­duc­ing crime while mon­i­tor­ing the city’s only safe drug con­sump­tion site.Health Min­is­ter Sarah Hoff­man made the an­nounce­ment just hours af­ter a re­port from po­lice show­ing the crime rate in the Belt­line has sky­rock­eted near the Safe­works Harm Re­duc­tion Pro­gram, lo­cated in­side the Shel­don M. Chu­mir Health Cen­tre.Hoff­man said the grant to Cal­gary’s Al­pha House So­ci­ety is to cre­ate a Down­town Outreach Ad­dic­tions Part­ner­ship (DOAP) team “as­signed to the down­town core and specif­i­cally watch­ing the perime­ter of the Chu­mir and sur­round­ing neigh­bour­hoods.”“I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant that peo­ple feel safe in their com­mu­nity, and that means en­sur­ing we’re do­ing im­por­tant health-care work in­side the build­ing, but also in­creas­ing ser­vices in and around the neigh­bour­hood,” Hoff­man said.While drug crimes in the rest of the city are de­clin­ing, the re­port on “crime and dis­or­der” shows a 250-me­tre zone near the site has be­come ground zero for drug, vi­o­lent and prop­erty crimes in the down­town.Po­lice pre­vi­ously said drug deal­ers are flock­ing to the com­mu­nity to target the vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion us­ing the site.Stats from 2018 show a 276-per­cent in­crease in drug-re­lated calls to po­lice in the zone 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. Breakand-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.In an ear­lier in­ter­view with Post­media, in­terim po­lice Chief Steve Bar­low said the area has be­come a mag­net for those in­volved in the drug life­style, prompt­ing the force to in­crease re­sources around the cen­tre.JoAnn McCaig, who runs Shelf Life Books across from Safe­works, said she has had to call po­lice nu­mer­ous times to as­sist with Safe­works clients caus­ing dis­tur­bances in her busi­ness.McCaig said she’s glad to see the prov­ince and the city step­ping up to tackle the com­mu­nity’s con­cerns.She ac­knowl­edged the rise in drug use is a “so­cial prob­lem” af­fect­ing the en­tire city, but said “the Belt­line is be­ing asked to pay too high a price for the com­mon good.”A li­ai­son com­mit­tee of com­mu­nity mem­bers, po­lice of­fi­cers and Al­berta Health Ser­vices staff have met twice to dis­cuss ways of re­duc­ing crime near Safe­works.Bar­low said polic­ing near the site is a bal­ance be­tween keep­ing a vis­i­ble pres­ence to dis­cour­age drug deal­ers and not chas­ing off Safe­works clients.“I don’t want to scare away the peo­ple who need the sup­port and who are part of that pop­u­la­tion, I want to deal with the peo­ple who are vic­tim­iz­ing them,” Bar­low said.An av­er­age of 196 users vis­ited the fa­cil­ity ev­ery day in Oc­to­ber — the high­est recorded num­ber since it opened in 2017 — and Hoff­man said more than 800 lives have been saved by Safe­works.In ad­di­tion to the DOAP team fund­ing, Hoff­man said the prov­ince’s opi­oid re­sponse com­mis­sion is “to ex­pand their role to give us ad­vice on metham­phetamine.”Coun. Evan Wool­ley (whose ward in­cludes the Safe­works site) will put for­ward an ur­gent no­tice of mo­tion on Mon­day with a 12-point ac­tion plan.Wool­ley is call­ing on “stake­hold­ers in­clud­ing Al­berta Health Ser­vices and the Cal­gary Po­lice Ser­vice to take im­me­di­ate ac­tion to in­crease pub­lic safety.”Wool­ley said the re­port “val­i­dates some of those con­cerns” from res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers in the area who have been rais­ing the is­sue of in­creased crime for months.He called the in­crease in crime “un­ac­cept­able.”But he also ac­knowl­edged the site’s ser­vices are “a vi­tal com­po­nent” in harm re­duc­tion and drug pre­ven­tion.But Wool­ley didn’t rule out ex­plor­ing a move of the site if the com­mu­nity crime rate doesn’t im­prove.Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi said re­duc­ing crime won’t come from mov­ing the cen­tre or shut­ting it down, but said “the an­swer is to man­age the so­cial dis­or­der around the fa­cil­ity bet­ter, and help to mit­i­gate the im­pact on those busi­nesses and those in­di­vid­u­als.”Wool­ley has re­quested po­lice of­fi­cials at­tend a meet­ing of the city’s pro­tec­tive ser­vices com­mit­tee “to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion and an­swer ques­tions on the Cal­gary Po­lice Ser­vice’s con­tin­u­ing strat­egy to ad­dress so­cial dis­or­der, crime and vi­o­lence” near the Safe­works site.

The prov­ince will be pro­vid­ing a $200,000 grant to cre­ate a team as­signed to the down­town core, specif­i­cally watch­ing Chu­mir and sur­round­ing ar­eas, with an aim to re­duce crime in the area.

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