The East Village neighbourhood is a gem of a place, but some residents worry its revitalization will be reversed by a proposal to create addiction recovery services at Calgary’s Drop-In Centre.
The plan would include an overdose prevention site. Sandra Clarkson, the DI’s executive director, said something has to change.
“The level of mental health and addiction has become incredibly complex — unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.”
“Status quo isn’t enough,” Clarkson said.
“We are looking at a recovery-oriented service which would include overdose prevention services which is similar to supervised consumption sites and withdrawal management or detox, as well as a recovery transition program while we work on housing for them.”
The plan comes on the heels of the looming closure of the supervised consumption site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre. There is no date scheduled for its removal, and Clarkson said the DI would be a suitable location for some of those services. There will be another proposed location for overdose prevention.
“This year, to date, we are projecting 1,400 drug-poisoning reversals that we will perform within our own facility,” she said.
“We are doing routine bathroom checks because we have a 10-minute window to find someone before brain damage sets in — and death.”
Clarkson said she understands community resistance to the DI plan but wants to keep engagement going.
“These are a group of people left behind by numerous systems… the collective failure of many systems — and we are the catchall for that and we need to find creative, innovative ways of working with others to create pathways out,” she said.
Andre Van Dijk is a member of the Rivers District Communities Action Alliance. He and a couple of hundred other residents and business owners attended three public consultation meetings on the proposal.
“It’s a wonderful community and there is a real opportunity frankly to mess it up,” Van Dijk said.
He said residents and business owners want more information before this plan is implemented.
“That’s our biggest fear is there won’t be appropriate funding for it — the funding to provide health services needs to be accompanied by funding for the crime and social disorder that will come with it,” Van Dijk said.
According to a 2018 crime and disorder report published by the Calgary Police Service that documented crimes rates near the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre, the area has seen its share of crime.
“(A) 47 per cent increase in violent crime, a 45 per cent increase in break and enter and a 63 per cent increase in vehicle crime,” Van Dijk said. “The conclusion is directly attributable to services provided at Sheldon Chumir.”
Steve Gin has been a resident of the East Village for close to two decades.
“We came here knowing the DI was here — and Salvation Army — and we embraced that,” he said.
“We have a responsibility to be part of a solution, but every time there is an additional social service, especially one involving drug dealers, the neighbourhood goes sideways.”
Gin said the scale of this project is too much given the saturation of social services.
“I don’t have confidence they can deliver these services effectively, at least not with the current information we have,” Gin said.
“This can’t be in one location… This problem is of international magnitude and that has to be owned by the entire city.”
More community engagement sessions are planned for the fall. The province and police have committed to being at the table for ongoing discussions.
“Pushing it through based on the sentiment we heard is not ideal at this time,” Clarkson said.
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The Calgary Police Service issued a statement about the issue.
“The Calgary Police Service is committed to working with key stakeholders, including social serving agencies and the communities we serve, to find collaborative solutions to address the needs of vulnerable Calgarians struggling with addictions.”
Eric Engler, press secretary to Mike Ellis, the associate minister of mental health and addictions, said the province will continue to work with the DI to ensure more Albertans have the opportunity to pursue recovery.
“Alberta’s government is building a comprehensive, recovery-oriented system of care,” Engler said.
“That is why we’re working with the Calgary Drop-in Centre to provide medical detox and overdose prevention services on-site to help people move out of addiction and into recovery.”