Mixed reaction from public on proposed supervised consumption site

Issue tabled until the Nov. 26th meeting

City council heard from about 29 citizens at a public hearing about a land use bylaw amendment for a proposed future supervised consumption services site at 5233 54th Ave. near the existing Safe Harbour site.

With the public hearing extending well into the evening, council tabled the item for two weeks, to be debated at the Nov. 26th meeting.

With the item tabled until Nov. 26th, council also cannot discuss the issue with each other, members of the public or the media until a decision is made to uphold the integrity of the hearing process.

Supervised consumption sites provide a place where people can use previously-obtained drugs in a monitored, hygienic environment to reduce harm and overdose death caused by substance use while offering additional services such as counselling, social work and opioid-dependency treatment, according to Alberta Health Services.

In a letter to council, the Canadian Mental Health Association noted that, “Supervised Consumption Services are a public health intervention to reduce HIV and viral hepatitis transmission and overdose deaths; they promote access to treatment and other supportive care and increase public safety.

Council also heard strong arguments both for and against the site from the public, including some businesses and organizations that are located near the site.

The site itself is large enough to accommodate all the services provided by Turning Point including supervised consumption services, and also contains a vacant building.

Adjacent sites in the area include a mix of institutional services, commercial recreation, merchandise sales and service, a detoxification centre and an overnight shelter.

“The people who utilize this proposed site are human beings first and foremost,” said local resident Christine Harris. “Their feelings get hurt, they are ashamed, they’re embarrassed, they are lost, lonely. Why don’t they deserve to be cared for just because they have an addiction?

“Everyone is talking treatment, and I say, yes it’s about treatment. Treatment of kindness, compassion and empathy. That’s the type of treatment we need to look at first before you look at any other type of treatment. We’re not going to empower these folks to make any kind of changes in their lives if we continue to push them further underground in their shame, isolation and hurt,” she said.

On the other side of the issue, some business owners and organization representatives were concerned about the impact the site would have on the surrounding area.

“From our organization’s standpoint, the biggest concern we have – and it’s not that we are against the idea behind it – it’s the location of it,” said Walter Wiley, president of the Central Alberta Archers Association.

“The reason for that is our neighbourhood has undergone significant changes based on the facilities that are down there now,” he said. “There have been other locations that have come up, and would some of them work? Yes, I do believe they would.

“First and foremost is the safety of the youth; we have a lot of youth that we deal with twice a week as we said in the meeting tonight. The other concern I have is the location in and of itself for those that are going to be using it – as we’ve heard some people say tonight, that it’s a busy road. I drive that road down to go to class, I see the traffic, and by the time they are in front of our building, they are doing 60 to 65 kilometres an hour. So there is that factor, too.”

He added that he wasn’t certain Turning Point would be able to fund what they would have to do to make it a secure facility.

“We’ve been there a long time. We’ve put a lot of effort, a lot of time and a lot of money into this building we are in now. Moving is not financially feasible for us,” he said.

“The concept of it I do understand, I just don’t feel that it’s safe for those in the immediate area.”

Feedback was also received in the form of letters.

“As a mother of three and a grandmother of eight, and a proud but concerned Red Deer citizen, I wish to add my vote in favour of the proposed safe consumption site,” wrote Shirley Challoner to council.

“We must never lose sight of the reality that the young and old caught up in addictions are someone’s son/daughter, and members of the human family of which we all belong.”

On the other side of the issue, the owners of the Troubled Monk Brewery, Colleen and Charlie Bredo, wrote that they, “Both recognize this council has an opportunity to shape Red Deer’s future. We believe more than ever, council has to show true leadership to ensure our community feels safe, and our economic viability remains strong.

“We need facilities for addicts and homeless people, but the proposed location at this hearing and the Red Deer downtown is not the location for this.”

Meanwhile, an amendment to the existing Direct Control District (DC28), which describes land uses and regulations for development, is necessary for the proposed use.

If the application is approved and a development permit is issued, Turning Point will relocate their existing operations, which include health programming and promotion, overdose prevention education services and community outreach, onto the new site.

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