MLA Kathleen Ganley to hold supervised consumption site complaint meeting

Kathleen Ganley, who represents the riding, says she has heard from several residents and business owners who are concerned about the activity around the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre's supervised consumption site.

Politician looks to address 'minority voices' worried about drug user impact on Beltline community

MLA Kathleen Ganley is looking to listen to residents worried about the supervised consumption site in the Beltline. (CBC)

Some Beltline residents and business owners will be able to put their complaints about the area's new supervised consumption site directly to those running it next week.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, who represents the riding of Calgary-Buffalo as its MLA, says she has heard from several residents and business owners who are concerned about the activity around the facility.

She has asked them to join her in a group meeting with representatives from law enforcement and Alberta Health Services.

'Incumbent on me to listen'

"It's not necessarily always due to the presence of the supervised consumption services that these things are happening," Ganley said Wednesday.

"By and large the community has been extremely supportive but I think it's, in terms of my role as the representative for the area, it's incumbent on me to listen to those minority voices as well." 

Calgary's first permanent supervised consumption site opened in January at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre on Fourth Street S.W. The health centre has run a needle exchange and distribution service since 2008.

From when the consumption site temporarily opened last fall to April 30, staff have responded to 230 overdoses and referred 208 people to other programs from social work to addictions treatment.

Two registered nurses equipped with naloxone, oxygen and training in overdose response supervise the consumption room. (Mike Symington/CBC)

But now, five months after opening, some people are finding those good results are tempered by a negative impact to the surrounding community. The health centre is across the street from the popular Central Memorial Park, and close to multiple restaurants.

"You're seeing them kind of shoot up and then basically set free to rove through the park," Provision restaurant co-owner Kirk Shaw told the Calgary Eyeopener. "And it's a bit of a spectacle, and you feel for these people for sure. But I think the safety issues for, you know, residents and patrons of the park have to be considered in this situation."

David Low, executive director of the Victoria Park business improvement area, says he thought the consumption site would have mostly fentanyl users, rather than the high number of meth users. Health authority figures show almost twice as many clients are using meth than fentanyl.

"This issue is extremely, emotionally laden and very tragic for sure," he told the Calgary Eyeopener. "Since I've started talking about it more critically and publicly, a lot of people have reached out through my office."

Decline in 311 complaints

A representative from Alberta Health Services' Safeworks Harm Reduction Program was not available for an interview on Wednesday. In a statement, it said Safeworks is working closely with police to ensure the safety of the community, and in fact has found a decline in 311 complaints in the area as well as fewer police reported incidents of social disorder around the Chumir centre.

Peter Oliver, president of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association, said he believes the complaints are "vastly exaggerated" and his organization has heard of few issues.

He said he's found the Chumir centre to be responsive to feedback, for example, implementing daily street and sidewalk cleaning, and helping clients store their shopping carts and belongings. 

Positives outweigh negatives, says MLA

Ganley said that although the positive response so far has outweighed the negative, she wants to help address those concerns.

"I think it's important to emphasize that what we're talking about is a very small minority of individuals," Ganley said.

"Supervised consumption services have saved lives. They help connect people with treatment and, in fact, they tend to decrease social disorder in the area."

The meeting is not open to the public as it is being held to have a conversation with the people who have concerns, she said.

​​​With files from Lisa Robinson and the Calgary Eyeopener.