Pubdate: Tue, 01 Mar 2005
Source: Chilliwack Progress (CN BC)
Copyright: 2005 The Chilliwack Progress
Author: Jennifer Feinberg, Progress
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Chilliwack business owners blew off steam yesterday at city hall about not 
being warned the local harm reduction program had moved into their 

A meeting was thrown together between fuming business owners, city, RCMP 
and program officials.

The aim was to defuse the situation by tackling skewed perceptions about 
such programs operating alongside businesses.

"A number of people were absolutely furious about the lack of communication 
with the business and residential community," said Anne Hails, owner of 
Dickens Sweets.

She said "blood was boiling" over the fact the harm reduction program - 
which includes needle exchange as one component - has moved from its space 
near Southgate Mall to a suite at 45910 Alexander Ave., without prior 
warning for the merchants of Railway and Alexander Avenues.

"We all recognize the need for such a facility," Ms. Hails underlined, "but 
the location became an issue."

Coming out of the meeting she said she's still not completely happy about 
it, but feels the merchants' main concerns will be resolved. Councillor Mel 
Folkman, who sits on the harm reduction advisory committee, said the matter 
is really about perceptions. With more education, fears will diminish about 
the provincially-funded program, he said.

"I think the consensus was we'd see how this goes. With more communication, 
monitoring and a tightly-controlled program, we'd give it all a month or 
two to see," he said.

Fraser Valley Connection Services program coordinator Sam Mohan said it 
will be crucial to develop a good relationship with every member of the 
business community.

A good location is key to the success of the program, and finding a space, 
say at the former army base would not work, since her client base couldn't 
necessarily get across town easily, she said.

"The meeting was a well-received process and now I'm just waiting to see 
how it all unfolds," Ms. Mohan said. "It's just important that people 
understand what the program does. This has been a big learning curve for 
me, too."

The 11-year-old harm reduction program has operated successfully in three 
different locations in Chilliwack. Fraser Valley Connection Services sees 
about 30 to 40 people per day, offering a variety of services including 
detox and rehab referral.

The group's lease for the space on Ontario Avenue is up March 31, as a 
result of the mall's plans for the development of a new tenant. Members of 
the advisory board had to find a new location quickly, Ms. Mohan said.

Ms. Hails said Monday's meeting "opened the lines of communication" and 
hopes that promises to address the business community's concerns will be 
taken seriously. Customer safety and concerns about discarded needles were 
high on the list, she said.

Program officials reminded the crowd that communities with harm reduction 
programs have cleaner streets than those without.

RCMP officials made it clear they don't believe the harm reduction program 
spells an increase in crime in the area.

"The crime going on now on Alexander is not a result of the needle 
exchange," said Staff Sgt. Gerry Falk.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth