Harm-reduction rally held in Lethbridge: ‘Like taking a hospital away from a community and leaving an ambulance’

For International Overdose Awareness Day, a Kingston mother who lost her son to an overdose in 2017 says there shouldn't be any stigma. Danica Ferris / Global News

International Overdose Awareness Day coincided with the closure of Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site (SCS) on Monday, and in response to both, a rally was held at city hall.

Organizers of Monday’s event included advocates from Moms Stop the Harm as well as former employees of ARCHES, the organization that was running the SCS before losing funding from the Alberta government following a provincial audit.

Those in attendance at the rally outside city hall were overwhelmingly opposed to the government’s decision to shut down the site. The service has been replaced with a mobile overdose prevention site (OPS) run by Alberta Health Services, which opened outside the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre two weeks ago.

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“The impact will be death, there’s no other way to put that,” said Lori Hatfield, an advocate with Moms Stop the Harm. “When you look at the stats for the people that were using the supervised consumption site services — 600-800 people a day — and the mobile unit that we have in place now seats three, but they can only do two at a time.

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“The relationships that have been built over the years, and that broken relationship, we won’t be getting those same people going to the mobile unit.”

Many people in attendance Monday had relationships with ARCHES, both personal and professional, including Sam Macky who spoke at the rally.

“I have been a proud client of ARCHES since I was 18 years old and I’m almost 26 now, and I’ve been employed by them for three years,” Macky said. “Unfortunately, we closed today. It’s a very heartbreaking moment.”

Macky believes the city will see many people suffer without the services that have been provided by ARCHES.

“It’s a bit of a terrifying thought,” she said. “Thankfully we do have the OPS and they are going to do the best work that they can, I have no doubt that they will do that.”

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“It is kind of like taking a hospital away from a community and leaving an ambulance. There’s a lot more that we need than just that OPS.”

An open letter to Premier Jason Kenney from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network outlines the same concerns, and has been signed by more than 46 organizations across the country.

Those in attendance at the rally took part in a dying demonstration — where participants drew chalk outlines of themselves on the ground — as well as a road-side protest and a march to the now-closed supervised consumption site.

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