Debate to continue Tuesday on safe drug injection sites in Edmonton

Speaker after speaker has told Edmonton city councillors more consultation is needed before it takes the next steps to setting up supervised drug-injection sites in Edmonton.

'Drug injection sites are like fighting pneumonia with Kleenex,' resident Ken Harcus says

The community services committee is hearing from people about a proposal to set up safe drug injection sites in Edmonton. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

Citizens have told Edmonton city councillors Monday that more consultation is needed before council takes the next steps toward setting up supervised drug-injection sites in inner-city neighbourhoods.

"Talking to less than 0.1 per cent of the Edmontonians … within four blocks of the drug injection sites is not a proper consultation," Spruce Avenue resident Ken Harcus told councillors.

Edmonton is considering a proposal to have supervised injection services offered at three community agencies — Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Boyle Street Community Services and the George Spady Centre.

A fourth program would be set up at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for inpatients only.

Rather than setting up services where people can legally inject drugs, the focus should be on providing help for people to get off drugs, Harcus said.

"Drug injection sites are like fighting pneumonia with Kleenex," he said.
Inner city resident Georgina Fiddler showed slides of homeless people, needles, and garbage to city councillors Monday. (Georgina Fiddler)

Petra Schulz, who lost her son Danny to a fentanyl overdose in 2014, told councillors a safe place to inject drugs should include other services so users can build relationships and trust as a "bridge to recovery." 

Supervised injection sites have been proven to save lives and prevent infections among drug users, said Shelley Williams, executive director of HIV Edmonton.

The sites are not the be-all and end-all in dealing with drug addiction in the city, she said.

"This is only one solution, it is not the solution, and it's certainly not a magic bullet," Williams said.

Compromises suggested

Several speakers raised the possibility of paring down the proposal to only one site and that it be run as a pilot project.

That's not likely the direction councillors will take, said Coun. Michael Walters.

"What we're trying to deal with here is the 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week access to services for people who are at risk of dying," said Walters. 

Safe drug-injection sites are an interim measure to permanent supportive housing, said Coun. Scott McKeen. 

He said he understands the frustration people in the Boyle-McCauley neighbourhoods feel about having a concentration of services for the homeless and addicted in their neighbourhoods.

McKeen wants the city to look outside of those areas when the time comes to locate new permanent supportive housing.

"I think it's up to this council to find sites around the community that will work," McKeen said.

The city will have to do its homework to prove to residents "they are not in danger" when it comes to this type of supportive housing, he added.

City council will likely move ahead on the issue when it meets tomorrow, said Mayor Don Iveson.

"The key is monitoring," Iveson said. "The questions are how will any unintended negative consequences to the neighbourhoods be dealt with."