Some who live in the community around Calgary’s supervised consumption site are raising concerns over incidents on their properties and a lack of response to their anxieties.
Jeff Cotton, who lives in a townhouse complex a block from the supervised consumption site at the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre, said he’s had to call 911 and the non-emergency line almost weekly.
“A lot of extra criminal activity and drug dealers hovering about,” he told Global News. “Every summer it gets worse and worse. We are constantly dealing with crime and disorder.”
Cotton is the president of the homeowners association at the complex, and said residents face issues like drug use, overdoses and break-in attempts, and receive a limited response from police or other orders of government.
“We want to see it gone because anything that we’ve tried to attempt by being a good neighbour and working with it has come to no resolution that’s amicable for anybody,” Cotton said. “We cannot co-exist in this environment.”
The supervised consumption site at the Sheldon Chumir opened in October 2017 and had 277,021 visits as of June 30, 2023.
During that same time period, staff at the site responded to a total of 6,314 overdoses.
In June, the most recent month for reported statistics at the site, there were 2,774 visits from 526 unique individuals with an average of 92 visits per day.
“It’s a huge difference in safety for somebody using drugs,” said harm reduction advocate, Euan Thomson. “These sites save lives every single day.”
As of June 30, an increasingly toxic drug supply has resulted in 360 deaths from drug poisoning in Calgary this year.
However, Thomson noted that residents and businesses are “absolutely right” to be raising concerns about government response to the crisis and its spillover effects.
“This is valid reasoning, because things are getting worse for a lot of people out there, and the spillover is real,” he said. “Unfortunately, by closing sites, what we’re going to see is that these outcomes are going to intensify.”
Last year, the provincial government attempted to move the site from the Sheldon Chumir to the Drop-In Centre but those plans were quashed following public pushback.
According to the province, officials are looking at options to move the supervised consumption facility to “smaller sites that are located closer to existing services and the people who use them.”
“We will continue working with our community partners and city council to ensure services remain available while upholding safety for Calgarians and all Albertans,” a Mental Health and Addiction ministry spokesperson said in a statement to Global News. “To ensure there are no gaps in service, there will be no changes to the operations at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre until the new locations are fully operational.”
Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott, who represents the Beltline community, said that he hears concerns from residents often and that there are “active conversations” with community groups, police, and Alberta Health Services.
He said the issue was discussed during the recent Calgary Police Commission Policing Summit.
“When we’re having these issues of social disorder, the whole team of people that deal with it will be in the room,” Walcott said. “These issues, they aren’t really any one particular group’s problem; they sit with all of us and the solution also sits with all of us accordingly.”
According to Thomson, services need to be expanded as “the majority” of overdoses happen after the inhalation or smoking of drugs, which isn’t currently allowed at the Sheldon Chumir site.
“A lot of people are spilling out into public spaces,” he said. “We have to be thinking about inhalation sites right now, and if we can’t, then we are going to continue to see increases in public drug use, and all the associated consequences.”
Alberta Health Services hosts at least one engagement session per year with stakeholders and residents in the surrounding community to “work together to develop solutions,” according to a briefing sent to residents.
However, Cotton said the response hasn’t been enough to address the concerns of residents.
“People are getting complacent with it because they realize when they call, nothing gets done,” he said. “So they stop calling.”