As the future of Calgary’s first mobile supervised consumption site remains uncertain, some residents continue to raise concerns about having the services in their neighbourhood.
The mobile site has been proposed for Forest Lawn, which has the second highest overdose rate in Calgary. Provincial funding for the service has been frozen while the UCP government conducts a review of proposed supervised consumption sites across Alberta.
William Carnegie, who is the former president of the Forest Lawn Community Association, initially advocated for the proposed mobile supervised consumption site, but pulled his support after Calgary police reported an increase in crime in the area around the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre.
"I'm so fed up with being exposed to this daily, I think it is imperative that the city addresses this monumental mistake." — Geoff Allan, Victoria Park resident
The police report released in January detailed stats from 2018, including a 63 per cent rise in vehicle crime in the area surrounding Calgary’s first supervised consumption facility, located in the Sheldon Chumir in the Beltline. The report also pointed to a significant increase in drug-related calls and complaints in the neighbourhood.
"I think what ends up happening is there is a concentration of crime in regards to these areas,” said Carnegie. “And until (the city) finds a way to mitigate that properly and work with the community, we really won't see any solution."
Carnegie added that Forest Lawn's homeless population is nowhere near the size of downtown.
"So we're essentially asking individuals to walk or drive to the site and then drive their car high? I think it is a poorly thought out idea.”
But Rachael Edwards, the Calgary clinical lead for supervised consumption services with HIV Community Link, said no neighbourhood in the city is exempt from overdose deaths.
HIV Community Link is proposing to operate the Forest Lawn service out of a supervised consumption mobile unit that would be located on 20th Avenue S.E. between 48th Street and 50th Street S.E.
"The point of our service is to be responsive to the needs of the community and to be predictable to where our site will be, so people have easy access,” said Edwards. “That is the main advantage of having a mobile site."
Edwards said staff at the site could also help connect people with other services.
“We’re trying to meet people halfway in a non-judgmental situation,” Edwards said. “Not all people are homeless and some people are looking for a way to become clean. The beauty is we have an opportunity to support these people when they're ready to quit and build a relationship with them to help them achieve their goals, whatever that may be.”
Meanwhile, residents in the area around the Chumir site continue to speak out about the effects of the supervised consumption site on the surrounding community.
Geoff Allan bought his first home just a couple of blocks away from the facility in 2017. Since the supervised consumption site opened, he said he has been forced to move further away and now rents his property out to people through Airbnb.
"I'm so fed up with being exposed to this daily,” he said. “I think it is imperative that the city addresses this monumental mistake."
Allan said recently, his garage and his neighbour’s car were both broken into and that one day outside his home, he found “12 needles, one used condom, a used tampon and human feces."
Edwards said HIV Community Link is offering education to businesses, agencies and residents in the area surrounding their proposed facility in Forest Lawn on how to cope with someone who is under the influence and how to safely dispose of needles.
“So we're really hoping that can be part of the solution,” she said.
The proposed Forest Lawn site would need to be granted an exemption from Health Canada under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act before it could operate in the community.
- By Peter Brand