Pubdate: Wed, 28 Jun 2017
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network
Author: Meghan Potkins
Page: A11


Some local residents against proposed facility, fear impact on
property values

Maintenance staff and volunteers at First Baptist have gotten used to
finding needles and other drug paraphernalia while tidying the flower
beds belonging to the historic Beltline church.

"All the time. We have a lot of needles. Now we've got special devices
to pick them up because it's not safe," said Jose Gongora, head of
maintenance for the church.

"Our volunteers are very worried and concerned because these guys use
needles and just drop it everywhere."

The inner-city church sits across the street from the Sheldon Chumir
Health Centre, the site proposed by Alberta Health Services for
Calgary's first supervised drug consumption site.

As the province forges ahead with plans for the program, which could
open by the end of this year, opinions are divided in the
neighbourhood about its location.

"I sympathize with the individuals that are sadly caught up in that
cycle of drugs," says longtime church member David Holten. "In some
ways, I wish it was in a different site. But then the other side of
the coin is, well, that's what everybody else is thinking, no matter
where it goes."

Calgary has been hit hard by the opioid crisis that has killed
hundreds in Alberta.

More than a thousand people in the province have died since 2011 of
fentanyl-related overdoses. In the first five months of this year, 77
people died in Calgary, more than anywhere else in the province.

While a majority of people who died in both Calgary and Edmonton lived
outside the city cores, the areas with the highest concentration of
EMS calls for opioid-related events in 2016 were downtown, according
to data from Alberta Health.

"These are staggering numbers of people dying, and they're dying in
our streets and we need to respond," says Evan Woolley, Beltline
resident and Ward 8 councillor. "We need to remember that there are
ingestion and injection sites all over the Beltline already: they're
the parks, public bathrooms and back alleys."

But some local residents are against the proposed facility. Several
who spoke to Postmedia cited fears about the impact on property values
and local businesses. Others are concerned that it could attract more
drug users, drug dealers and homeless.

"I don't think it's going to change anything. It's going to create
more injections. Getting them off the stuff is the better way to go
than to give them a safe place to use it," says resident Bill
Desroshers, who has lived in the Beltline since the 1970s.

Still, proponents say treatment and harm reduction measures are
necessary and complementary strategies to combat the escalating number
of drug-related deaths.

"We agree we need to get people into treatment," says Shelley
Williams, executive director of HIV Edmonton and chair of Access to
Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton. "But this is about a
spectrum of services: we don't have enough treatment, but we also
don't have enough harm reduction services."

Discussions have been underway in Edmonton since 2012 about the
possibility of a safe injection site.

An architect has been hired to begin design work on four Edmonton
locations housed within existing community services and one hospital.
Williams says each facility will be broken down into three parts:
reception, injection room and monitoring room.

The injection room will be closely observed by a medical professional,
likely a nurse. Clean needles, wipes and water will be available.

The drugs brought in will be identified at reception, so staff will
know what to look for when it comes to adverse reactions or overdose.

"The booths are stainless steel, there's a mirror and lots of light,
so people can see things well," Williams says.

After using the drug, people are encouraged to remain in the
monitoring room for a period of time.

"That's when we're able to have better conversations," Williams says.
"Because if they're in need of a substance right away, it's not at the
reception time that you can really have a discussion with people, it's
actually after. That's the opportunity: you can have the conversations
about what they're thinking, what's going on in their life and how we
might be able to help."

For some congregants at First Baptist, a supervised consumption site
could potentially be a welcome addition to the neighbourhood.

"Let's give it a try," Holten says. "My sense is that we'll be able to
count the needles laying around, and we'll find out very quickly if
it's a success or not."
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