Forest Lawn resident says supervised consumption site poses danger to community

People who live in Forest Lawn are speaking out against a mobile supervised consumption site planned for their neighbourhood, with some suggesting it will do more harm than good for a community that already struggles with crime and drug issues.

Opponents fear site will further damage community's drug and crime reputation

Person holds injection kit
An injection kit, similar to the ones offered at supervised consumption sites. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

People who live in Forest Lawn are speaking out against a mobile supervised consumption site planned for their neighbourhood, with some suggesting it will do more harm than good for a community that already struggles with crime and drug issues — and the reputation that brings.

HIV Community Link plans to put the bus in an industrial park in Forest Lawn, when it's not moving between neighbourhoods.

Long-time Forest Lawn resident James Dickson, who has been in recovery from drugs and alcohol for 10 years, says the site will do more harm than good.

"What HIV Community Link has shown is an inability to monitor and to police the facility that they have downtown at the Sheldon Chumir. That has our residents thinking that we don't want this in our backyard," Dickson told the Calgary Eyeopener, adding the facility would pose a real danger to the community.

"We are not a condominium- and businesses-affected community like Sheldon Chumir. We're a families and school neighborhood."

Dickson said not only will it be difficult to police, but the site could also worsen the reputation of the community.

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"The reputation that Forest Lawn has had in the past has been that of drug use and of crime, and that's just not a reality any longer, with recent upgrades to 17th Avenue and the business association there," he said.

"We're a vibrant new community that's trying hard to recover from a reputation. Bringing something like this into our community and not being able to police it because you're simply not qualified makes us think you need to be a little more transparent in what your ideas are."

Crime near permanent site

Calgary's first supervised consumption site opened in 2017 at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre in the Beltline. It's credited with saving more than 750 lives in its first year, but also with bringing more crime to the neighbourhood. Police calls to the area have jumped 29 per cent over a three-year average. That's compared with an eight per cent increase across the rest of the city centre.

"It's really important to take the concerns of the communities seriously. The services, they are evidence-based and life-saving services," Leslie Hill, executive director of HIV Community Link, told the Calgary Eyeopener  in February, when the plans for the Forest Lawn site began meeting controversy. 

"They are public health interventions that have lots of benefits. But we do understand that they also can come with some challenges."

In Kelowna, this converted RV offers a roving supervised injection site and access to services. HIV Community Link wants to bring a mobile site to Forest Lawn. (Interior Health Authority)

Dickson questions the approach of HIV Community Link, adding it has not done a proper consultation with the community. He says he is not speaking on behalf of the community association but he is working with them. Forest Lawn is just one community that has opposed the mobile site; the communities of Albert Park, Radisson and Southview have also raised objections.

"I am talking from personal experience. I've been in recovery since March of 2009 and believe that HIV community link can't even attach the words 'harm reduction' to this site or other sites similar, because it's so harmful they have to have people there to recover you from death or potential death," he said.

"So we believe that real recovery should be left to those that know about recovery, the places like Simon House Recovery, like Fresh Start (Recovery Centre), 1835 House and Aventa [Centre of Excellence for Women with Addictions]. Those are the people that have proven that they know how to deal with the situation."

'People are dying'

As to the idea that mobile supervised consumption sites will lessen the harm, Dickson says the key is to start recovery, not to enable using.

"The reality is that persons at risk like this do require some dignity, and especially women at risk certainly require some safety. But that's smoke and mirrors because what's really happening is people are using and people are dying, and the only way to get true help for them really is to start any form of recovery. And in our case, we believe and I personally believe that long-term recovery is the solution."

Forest Lawn has been identified as having higher rate of overdoses than other neighbourhoods, but Dickson says there are better ways to deal with the issues.

"Forest Lawn was definitely indicated as having a problem. We do believe that there are better solutions," he said. "Working towards education, handing out Naloxone kits and educating those persons that are phoning 911 ... how to use the kits, to be able to lessen the need for extended services from Alberta Health Services and Calgary police."

Health Canada has not yet approved the mobile site for HIV Community Link.

"The exemption has not been approved by Health Canada, and we are hoping that persons are able to contact Health Canada and let them know their opinions," Dickson said.

"Look at us on the Forest Lawn community website, and get information about where and who you can contact. If you're concerned about this, definitely come to our open houses that we are continuing to have at the Forest Lawn Community Association."

With files from the  Calgary Eyeopener.