KEEPING DRUG-USE SITE SAFE
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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