Supervised consumption site users speak on ARCHES closing
Lethbridge's supervised consumption site was one of the busiest in North America. Since opening in February 2018, there were close to half a million visits.
LETHBRIDGE -- Lethbridge's supervised consumption site, run by ARCHES, will shut down at the end of August and even though many people in the community are glad to see it come to an end, there will be those who miss it.
Namely, the people who have been using it in staggering numbers since it opened a little over two years ago.
“I’ve OD'ed a couple times here you know and they saved my life,” said 21-year-old SCS user July Redcrow “I think that the site actually saves a lot of lives and I wouldn’t want to see it shut down.”
On Wednesday, a letter was issued on behalf of ARCHES board of directors stating the site would be closing the consumption site effective Aug. 31st. The organization will also stop its needle debris pickup and walking outreach. The province has stated it will continue to work with the community on recovery-oriented supports and will continue with needle debris pickup.
The province announced July 16 that it was cutting off funding after saying it discovered $1.6 million missing.
Users of the facility feel there will be an increase in overdoses without ARCHES operating.
“Probably more deaths out on the streets, see more people shooting up in a lot more places like in the malls, parks, playgrounds,” said Redcrow.
Since opening in February 2018, there have been 446, 776 visits to the SCS as of June 30th. Facility staff estimate there are roughly 6,000 drug users in the city and surrounding area. Employees have made 2055 referrals to detox and treatment facilities.
The facility has a capacity of 13 booths for consumption and up to four in each of the two supervised inhalation rooms that can facilitate consumption allowing it to assist up to 21 people at one time. The province’s short term fix – a mobile overdose prevention site - accommodates quite a bit less.
“Two at a time. That’s kind of hard you know. This place when it was open here last year it used to be packed. We had to wait a couple hours,” said SCS user Jerimiah Holywhiteman.
Pre-pandemic numbers show the facility was one of the busiest in North America averaging 768 daily visits in February. Provincial funding for the facility was cut in July after an audit could not account for $1.6 million.
The closure is causing uncertainty for clients.
“This place kind of like babysat us,” said Holywhiteman.
“I’m glad that there is a safe consumption site because it actually did save a lot of lives,” said Redcrow.