Significant increase in public safety concerns near Sheldon Chumir supervised consumption site
City councillors, the province, Alberta Health Services, and the Calgary Police Service are working together to address a startling increase in troubling activity in the Beltline near the Sheldon M Chumir Health Centre .
“In the last couple months, we’ve seen a real significant rise in social disorder, in crime, in issues in the immediate vicinity of the Sheldon Chumir,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. “We have to make sure that the work we’re doing to help people stay alive is also helping them get better. We have to make sure that the work we’re doing to help people stay alive is not doing so at the cost of the neighbours and the people that live in the neighbourhood.”
Ward 8 councillor Evan Woolley says there has been an increase in predatory drug trafficking with dealers preying on vulnerable addicts as well as drug use, petty crime and harassment outside the health centre.
“People are starting to feel unsafe,” said Ward 8 councillor Evan Woolley. “There’s a different threshold of tolerance in the Beltline but everybody that lives in these neighbourhoods who, again, vastly support the work that we’re undertaking, they appreciate its complexities, but they deserve to move in and around their lives in a safe way. I think it’s incumbent upon council to ensure that they can do so.”
“The situation that we find ourselves in is unacceptable. I’m bringing forward an urgent notice of motion with Councillor Colley-Urquhart on Monday morning that has specific actions, six actions, for council to support that will make neighbours safe and will restore public confidence in and around the neighbourhood.”
In their notice of motion, Wooley and Colley-Urquhart say, of late, there has been an escalation of incidents and concerns expressed by adjacent residents, businesses and community organizations.
Woolley says the location of the safe consumption site was selected due to the supports offered by the medical centre but that more can be done to help the vulnerable population while ensuring the safety of residents.
“I think the piece that’s missing, specifically here, is offering up treatment opportunities and further, deeper supports,” explained Woolley. “If the neighbours in and around this site continue to remain (unsafe) and we cannot address their concerns, I think we need to have a serious conversation about the location.”
A 12-point action plan to address the situation that includes improving access to psychologists and psychiatrists for those with addiction issues, reviewing locations of needle collection boxes, daily needle clean-ups, expanding the DOAP (Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership) team’s presence, and increasing security.
Sarah Hoffman, Alberta’s Health Minister, says more than 800 lives have been saved at the safe consumption site since it opened in October 2017 and steps are being taken to improve the safety for those outside the building.
“It’s really important that people feel safe in their community and that means ensuring that we’re doing the important healthcare work inside the building but also increasing services in and around the building,” said Hoffman. “We’ve reached out to Alpha House and they have agreed to accept a grant where we’ll be investing $200,000 as a first step in response to the details that we’ve received today, to have a targeted DOAP team assigned to the downtown core specifically watching the perimeter of the Chumir and the surrounding neighbourhoods.”
The DOAP team is expected to address the issue of debris while ensuring people who are at risk of harming themselves or others are transported to a safe location where they can get the assistance they require.
Hoffman says the safe consumption site provides a valuable, life-saving service and the concerns of the public would not simply disappear if the site were to close.
“We still have a lot of people dying of overdose in our community so I imagine shutting the doors, kicking them onto the streets and saying you’re on your own wouldn’t help with the public safety concerns or the public health concerns either.”
Chief Steve Barlow of the Calgary Police Service says direct police intervention is not a long-term solution to a problem that officer cannot ‘arrest our way out of’.
“Being able to support these people when they’re at their lowest point is absolutely key to being able to solve this issue,” said Barlow. “If I don’t have police officers dealing with these people and we have someone else who can deal with them in a treatment way or in that type of fashion, (that’s) what we need to do.”
Nenshi says there is no simple solution to the issue at hand.
“We’ve got a very significant problem in our community. We’re losing people every week and we’re losing them in every corner of the city,” explained Nenshi. “We don’t understand yet what a really effective communitywide addiction and mental health strategy is.”
“The City can’t solve this alone. AHS can’t solve this alone. Calgary Police can’t solve it alone. We’ve got to come together and make sure that we’re working, all hands on deck, on those social disorder issues.”
With files from CTV's Bill Macfarlane