McCauley residents fear safe injection sites will lead to more neighbourhood problems

Some people in the inner-city neighbourhood of McCauley are raising concerns about the impact supervised injection sites could have on their community.

Residents call for locations to be spread around Edmonton

McCauley resident Wendy Aasen says drop boxes didn't stop drug users from discarding used needles on the ground in her neighbourhood. (Gareth Hampshire CBC News)

Some Edmontonians who live close to the proposed locations of supervised drug-injection sites predict they'll create even more problems in an already vulnerable community.

"This ultimately stigmatizes our community," said Wendy Aasen. "This will be the place to inject drugs, to buy drugs. To do drugs."

A former community league president who has lived in the area 25 years, Aasen argued it's time other areas stepped up.

"McCauley has all the shelter beds in the city, and the concentration of services has created a situation of chaos," she said.

It's common, Aasen said, for her to find bloody, discarded needles in her yard and neighbourhood. She doesn't believe that will stop with the introduction of safe injection programs, where people can use drugs under medical supervision.

"They'll be shooting up in back alleys anyway," she said.

Aasen plans to be at City Hall on Monday to tell councillors what she thinks, as they talk about the next steps needed to get approval for the injection sites from the federal government.

We're the people that witness the misery.- Wendy Aasen

Council will discuss the issue after it the city released a report that showed strong support for the idea from a majority of Edmontonians who responded to door-to-door and online surveys.

But Aasen said people in McCauley are tired of seeing the impact of drug use.

"We're the people that witness the misery, we're the people that phone to get help for folks, we're the people that report the crime," she said.

The Edmonton police neighbourhood crime map shows a rash of assaults and break-ins throughout the McCauley community in the past 30 days.

The proposed model calls for safe injection sites are three agencies:

  • Boyle McCauley Health Centre, 10628 96th St.;
  • Boyle Street Community Services, 10116 105th Ave.;
  • George Spady Centre, 10015 105a Ave.

A site at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, 10240 Kingsway, would be for inpatients only as part of an addiction and recovery program.

Gordon Stamp, who has lived in McCauley for 17 years, said residents have worked hard to improve the reputation of the area, and supervised injection sites won't help that effort.

Gordon Stamp, who has lived in McCauley for 17 years, says he finds discarded needles in the community almost every day. (Gareth Hampshire CBC News)

Conservative MP Kerry Diotte has accused city councillors of not listening to residents in McCauley, which is part of his Edmonton Griesbach riding.

During a Friday interview on CBC's Edmonton AM, Diotte described an injection site as a "shooting gallery."

Coun. Michael Walters called that reaction hyperbole, especially given 51 Albertans died from apparent drug overdoses in the first six weeks of this year.

He said it was inappropriate for Diotte to undermine the work all levels of government have done to try to deal with an opioid crisis.

"It's not just a site where people come to inject illicit drugs," said Walters.

The proposed sites will also try to connect people with treatment, he said.

"It's for people who are addicted to illicit drugs to a point where it's threatening their life."

Walters said councillors will pay close attention to community's concerns at Monday's meeting. He said he has confidence in the city's consultation process.

Walters, who worked to help revitalize inner-city neighbourhoods before he was elected, said he hopes the safe injection clinics will reduce discarded needles and social disorder.

'There is a lot of fear out there'

Mayor Don Iveson said Thursday the city will monitor all impacts should council move ahead with the plan.

The provincial medical director for addictions and mental health for Alberta Health Services said Diotte's "shooting gallery" comments perpetuate the negative stigma about such services.

Dr. Nick Mitchell said research shows that allowing people to use drugs under supervision works.

"I think there is a lot of fear out there and misinformation about what these safe injection sites are," he said. "The evidence shows us they save lives."

Aasen said she is not opposed to safe injection sites but is concerned about having them all within walking distance of her home.

"It's time the rest of the city pitched in and advocated for models that help people that are addicted to drugs."