19 agencies call for Calgary supervised consumption site to relocate closer to shelters
CALGARY -- A letter signed by 19 agencies that provide addiction treatment and services for individuals experiencing homelessness is calling for Calgary's only supervised consumption site to be moved to locations near shelters.
It comes just under three weeks after the province announced it is closing Safeworks — located at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre — in favour of two new sites, in more appropriate locations.
The letter was addressed to three cabinet ministers, including the associate minister for mental health and addictions.
It said that supervised consumption sites have to be located closest to where clients need them, in context with additional supports such as mental health services, detox and recovery-oriented services.
"My ultimate hope would be for there to be two (supervised) consumption sites. One downtown, hypothetically speaking (at) the Drop-in Centre and another one possibly at the Alpha House where detox is right there," said Earl Thiessen, executive director for Oxford House Foundation, which offers pre-treatment and recovery housing.
Thiessen says he supports harm reduction as a continuum of care which can lead to a recovery-based model, but the location of the Safeworks site is not well situated for the people it serves.
He added that additional services need to be readily available for clients.
"Not just hand them a pamphlet," he said.
"Ask them to come in for a discussion when they're ready."
The letter adds the issue is a growing one and staff are "already reversing large numbers of overdoses on a daily basis within our sites and off-site in nearby parks and streets."
The issue of fatal drug use has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with 228 deaths reported in the province as a result of accidental overdose in the first few months of this year.
In 2020, there were 1,144 opioid-related deaths in the province — an 83 per cent increase from 2019.
The Beltline location for the harm reduction service has come under fire by the local business community. In May, the province announced it will be closed, with the services being moved to more appropriate locations.
CTV news received a statement from Justin Marshall, press secretary for Jason Luan, the associate minister for mental health and addictions.
"We appreciate stakeholders coming together in support of a common direction. We agree with the sentiments in the letter and look forward to working together to continue improving the system for Albertans," it reads.
"We will be relocating the existing supervised consumption site, which has been highly disruptive to the neighborhood, and instead add SCS capabilities within existing partner organizations' situated in more appropriate locations.
"While we cannot announce those locations quite yet, they will be situated much closer to those who need such services. We will have more to say in the future, but rest assured that the Sheldon Chumir site will not close until the new facilities are operational."
Shaundra Bruvall, communications and fundraising coordinator with the Calgary Alpha House Society says they are "pleased to see that the letter we signed has received positive sentiments from the Government of Alberta."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre supervised consumption site was closed in July 2020. The site remains open and it was the ARCHES supervised consumption site in Lethbridge that was closed in July 2020.