The debate continues into whether or not harm reduction services, including supervised consumption sites, are needed in the province of Alberta.
Calgarians had their chance Wednesday night to address a six person panel appointed by the United Conservative Party government to review the social and economic effects of Alberta’s current and proposed supervised consumption sites.
One of the organizations in attendance was the Calgary Drop-In Centre where, according to officials, their staff responded to 134 overdose reversals in its building in 2019 so far, 300 per cent more compared to the same time period last year.
Executive director Sandra Clarkson told the panel that its staff was able to reduce chronic homelessness in Calgary by nearly 50 per cent over the last two years, but its staff did not anticipate dealing with so many overdoses.
"Right now, about 13.5 per cent of our staff are on leave for psychological reasons and we attribute that as a direct result to having to intervene in overdose reversals on a regular basis," she said. "On average we’re doing an overdose reversal every second day."
Clarkson added that people’s lives depend on harm reduction services, like the Safeworks site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Centre, and more detox centres are needed to combat the overwhelming increase of overdoses that her staff responds to.
"Our staff are not trained nor are they compensated as healthcare professionals, but they’re having to act in that capacity every day otherwise people will lose their lives."
According to Alberta Health Services, the need for harm reduction services has also increased over time.
In the month of July alone, AHS said 1,179 different people used the Safeworks site. Many of those people went back again and again that same month, bringing the total number of visits to 5,942.
Despite health officials saying the facility is helping save lives, others say it causes different issues.
Greg Tufford, who operates a business near the Sheldon M. Chumir, says he wants the supervised consumption site moved to a different location.
"I know they’re just saving lives or they claim they’re saving lives, but at this point I need something to be done on our end," said Tufford. "It’s endless and the fact that I have my own bucket and dollar store tongs to pick up needles on a daily basis doesn’t make it okay."
Tufford also pointed to the increase in crime in the area.
"Police have flat out told us 'Don’t call us, call the Alpha House, call the Dope Team'. They don’t have the means, they don’t have the resources,” said Tufford of the CPS approach. "They’ll be happy to give me a ticket for drinking beer but a guy with a heroin needle in his arm they’ll be happy to tell him 'Have a nice day'."
According to Calgary police, officers have responded to 50 per cent more drug-related calls near the Sheldon Chumir Safeworks site this year, compared to the three-year average.
A second Calgary town hall is scheduled for 5pm Thursday at the Joyce Theatre at the BMO Centre in Stampede Park.
To date, the province has received 7,000 submissions of feedback on safe consumption sites, whether it be through email or online survey.
To submit your feedback, visit Supervised Consumption Services Review
The review is scheduled to be completed sometime this fall. The review committee is expected to release a final report in the new year.
The committee does not have the power to make recommendations. It will be the job of the UCP cabinet to determine what the next steps might be for harm reduction services. Until then, there will be no change to the operating services of current supervised consumption sites across the province.