Pubdate: Wed, 03 May 2017
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Edmonton Journal
Author: David Staples
Page: A3


It's painful on a daily basis to deal with people in the neighbourhood
who have serious addiction issues.

Most everyone in the city, it seems, supports safe injection sites for
intravenous drug addicts going into Edmonton inner-city
neighbourhoods. Everyone except for one lonely group, those people who
have to live near them.

The prospective neighbours don't buy the notion that these sites will
make life better for all.

Edmonton city council, on the other hand, voted overwhelmingly, 10
votes to one, in favour of giving its stamp of approval for safe
injection sites.

Unsurprisingly, Tony Caterina, the one councillor who voted against
proceeding, grew up in McCauley and knows inside out the challenges
faced by inner-city neighbourhoods.

The near-unanimous majority was persuaded by evidence from eloquent
advocates like Elaine Hyshka, a public health professor at the
University of Alberta.

It shows these sites work to cut down on overdose deaths and the
spread of disease.

They're also said to cut in half the amount of off-site disruption in
the neighbouring communities that comes from homeless addicts camping
out, shooting up and dumping their needles and garbage in parks and on

As for locating all the new safe injection sites in the inner city,
well, that's where the homeless drug addicts hang out, so where else
would the sites logically go?

Count. Scott McKeen framed the matter as proper care for the sick,
vulnerable and mentally ill who self-medicate with alcohol and
powerful drugs to escape their pain. "They are the lowest of the low
in our society and we treat them like stray animals when they are
homeless - and they end up acting that way," McKeen said.

"To me, this is finally recognizing that they need a health

Mayor Don Iveson will now write a letter to the federal government in
support of the plan to create four safe injection sites in Edmonton's
inner city.

Yet for all the fine and rational reasons to proceed, numerous
fair-minded and compassionate Edmontonians, who also happen to live in
the inner city, showed up to oppose proceeding.

One of them, Phil O'Hara, president of the McCauley Community League,
has lived in the area for 24 years.

"I love it there. It's a fantastic diverse neighbourhood," he

O'Hara supports harm reduction, but he's had enough of new social
services coming into his area.

"It's painful on a daily basis to deal with people in the
neighbourhood who have serious addiction issues," he says.

"I don't get a chance to go to Riverbend and not have to deal with it.
Every day it's a moral choice I have to make about how I have to deal
with it."

O'Hara tries to give panhandlers a human response, such as a kind
word, even if he doesn't always give money.

But sometimes he feels worn out and defeated.

For instance, this past weekend it poured rain for a few hours.
Outside his window, O'Hara could see two homeless men across the alley
huddled under some plastic. He knew the men. He had earlier tried to
persuade them to get into a shelter but they hadn't listened to him.
Now they were getting soaked. But O'Hara didn't invite them into his

"I'm a bit appalled to say that," he said of his inaction. "I felt the
moral thing one should do is share your home with people who are
disadvantaged, and I felt a little bit like, 'Why can't I do that?'
Part of it is you become a little bit hardened in the inner city
because you deal with these things all the time."

In McCauley, 63 per cent of all housing is non-market, either social
or government-subsidized, O'Hara says, a proportion that is far too

Social housing needs to be shared throughout the city.

Social agencies in the area are also pushing constantly to expand
their services, to provide more housing, more beds, more programs,
O'Hara says. "It's the cumulative impact of all these increases in
services. That's the problem. It's not the one project on its own.
Three new (injection) sites in our neighbourhood probably wouldn't
have a huge, huge effect, but it's what they want to do, and what
someone else wants to do, and what someone else wants to do, and what
someone else wants to do."

In this case, I know few people who wouldn't take a Not In My Back
Yard stand.

Inner-city residents are completely justified to do so now, and it's
time for the rest of us to help out by supporting the one solution
numerous politicians and experts point to - more social and supportive
housing spread throughout the city.
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