Council allocates $1M to address safety concerns around Calgary's supervised consumption site
'Mental health and addictions isn't decreasing, citywide,' says Coun. Evan Woolley
City council has voted to set aside $1 million in one-time funding from its $25-million mental health and addiction initiative to address public safety concerns relating to Calgary's only supervised consumption site.
The motion was carried 11-3 Monday, with councillors Sean Chu, Peter Demong and Ward Sutherland voting against (Coun. Shane Keating was absent).
During the last meeting about the Sheldon Chumir site, a council committee heard Chu say drug use and addiction is "a choice," not a disease, and suggested many people likely don't want a "shooting gallery" in their neighbourhood.
Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart, one of the sponsors of the motion, recalled Chu's comments and urged council to take immediate action.
"I didn't want it getting out there that this council doesn't believe in investing in addictions and mental health," she said.
Opioid overdose deaths have been on the rise in Alberta, with the highest rate of deaths happening in Calgary.
The site allows people to use drugs in a monitored, clean environment as part of a harm reduction model, while offering support like counselling and addiction treatment.
Between the time the site opened in October 2017 and the end of 2018, it had responded to 802 overdoses involving 228 visitors, and recorded more than 54,000 client visits. But a recent police report shows reported crime and calls for service in the area have risen since the site's opening.
Coun. Evan Woolley, who represents the area where the consumption site is located, said he was happy council approved the funding.
"Citizens remain concerned but we've started to see significant increases in presence both from support workers at the Chumir as well as the Calgary Police Service. I've had feedback that people are starting to see those changes on the ground," he said.
The councillor also has a personal connection to the battle against the opioid crisis: he lost his brother to an overdose in April.
"I think what's really important, to stay focused on, is that mental health and addictions isn't decreasing, citywide," Woolley said.
"If the Chumir were not there, we would continue to have consumption throughout the centre city and across the city. That said, I don't think a harm reduction facility like the Chumir should be allowed to operate at the expense of community safety."
The money could be used on:
- Providing resources to support the Beltline Neighbourhood Association, 4th Street Business Improvement Area, and Victoria Park Business Improvement Area for community programming.
- Developing a good neighbour agreement and better co-ordination of resources with the Sheldon Chumir Site community liaison team.
- Providing specialized training for staff to recognize and interact with people using meth.
- Addressing crime prevention through environmental design review of Central Memorial Park and the surrounding area.
- Reviewing corporate security at city-owned properties near the site.
- Implementing increased security surveillance at Central Memorial and Haultain parks.
Other actions to improve safety around the area are already underway, like daily needle cleanups and a short-term, increased police presence.
Woolley said that despite the site being provincially funded, it's an issue affecting the city, and all levels of government should work on it.
The motion requires a report back to the council committee by June on how it will be implemented.
With files from Scott Dippel