Calgary·None

Mobile supervised consumption site being planned carefully, organizer tells opponents

The location is being picked carefully for a proposed mobile supervised consumption site, says an organizer who's trying to reassure the Forest Lawn community their safety concerns are heard.
Calgary's first supervised consumption site has attracted more than 54,000 visits since opening in 2017. Now there is an effort to launch a mobile site in east Calgary. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The location is being picked carefully for a proposed mobile supervised consumption site, says an organizer who's trying to reassure the community that their safety concerns are heard.

HIV Community Link is finalizing approvals to get a vehicle on the streets of Forest Lawn, a southeast Calgary neighbourhood.

"It's really important to take the concerns of the communities seriously. The services, they are evidence-based and life-saving services," executive director Leslie Hill told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

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

Leslie Hill is the executive director of HIV Community Link and co-chair of the Calgary Coalition on Supervised Consumption. (CBC)

She said the organizers have the "luxury of taking our time" to understand how to best set up a mobile site.

The mobile site would offer consumption throughout the neighbourhood and be supervised by staff trained to intervene with the overdose antidote, naloxone.

'We will not stand for it'

But the Forest Lawn Community Association vehemently opposes the idea, pointing to a recent report that showed violence has increased around the permanent site at Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre.

"As long as there is such a great risk to the community to have this mobile safe consumption site; we will not stand for it," president William Carnegie wrote on Facebook. "The increase in violent crime, break and enters, and social disorder is not acceptable to our community."

Since Calgary's consumption site opened a year ago, calls to police in 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.

And residents continue to discuss negative experiences they've had — like the man who said a neighbour had human feces thrown at him — and needle clean-up crews picking up dozens of used syringes a day.

Proponents of the site note its staff have prevented hundreds of overdoses, with nearly 900 returning clients.

'Fear of the unknown'

Hill also said her group has looked at how mobile sites are run across Canada, including in Kelowna and Kamloops, B.C.

"It's a little bit of 'fear of the unknown.' The mobile services, there's three of them currently in Canada," she said.

A recent study found most Kelowna residents supported the site, while half of those in Kamloops didn't.

In Kelowna, B.C., a converted RV has been rolling around the city to offer people with addiction a supervised place to use and a new way to access support services. (Interior Health Authority)

Hill said other Alberta cities have seen some positive results, like crime not going up near the site in Red Deer, and Edmonton seeing needle debris decreasing.

"We really just need to plan the service appropriately to balance … the needs of the community and the needs of our our folks who are at risk of dying by overdose," she said.

Location being finalized

The group is still finalizing locations, and has another round of community consultation planned with the neighbours immediately surrounding those spots, Hill said. After that, the plan must be submitted to Health Canada, and then staff need to be hired and trained.

In the Facebook post, Carnegie asked those involved in planning the mobile site — including Alberta Health Services, HIV Community Link and the City of Calgary — to prove that it won't endanger people in the area and that any risks can be mitigated.

HIV Community Link is also facing pushback from residents and business owners in a neighbourhood in Medicine Hat.

Overdoses have steadily increased in Medicine Hat, so the group wants to add a supervised consumption site close to a food bank and soup kitchen. 

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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