COUNCIL FRUSTRATIONS - City council expressed their frustrations on the lack of communication from the province on supervised consumption services in Red Deer. Carlie Connolly/Red Deer Express

Frustrations high with province on supervised consumption services

Red Deer City council discusses issue on Tuesday

Tensions were high in Council Chambers at City Hall Tuesday night because of the lacking communication on the need for supervised consumption services from the province.

“The City of Red Deer is extremely frustrated with the information differential that we’ve been functioning on. Alberta Health Services has a report regarding supervised consumption services that Turning Point is basing their recommendations on,” said Mayor Tara Veer.

She added City council has not been privy to that report at this time.

“Earlier in July the minister had said there were no specific plans for supervised consumption in Red Deer. The needs assessment identified the willingness of the municipality as a criteria, and so the City has conducted itself in good faith in responding to the process that we were formerly told by the provincial government,” said Veer.

Since that time the associate minister has written a letter indicating that the City of Red Deer is not being asked to take a position.

“We feel frustrated in that respect. Our citizens have the right to expect due process and in transparency decisions of this nature, and so we have been functioning within the context of changing rules.”

The other part that they are frustrated about, she said, is years ago in response to the high level of addictions in the City, the community tabled a drug and alcohol strategy that identified numerous pillars for responding to the local addictions crisis.

“The government has consistently not responded to our pleas for addictions treatment in recognition of the fact that for us to resolve addictions we need treatment capacity available for the citizens of Red Deer and region, and it has become an exacerbated crisis because the provincial government has failed to respond to those longstanding requests for treatment.”

Members of council also expressed similar frustrations.

Among the frustration, Veer and council heard a presentation from Turning Point Society of Central Alberta. They presented their needs assessment data, where there was a study done called the Red Deer Drug Use and Health Survey.

“We spoke to 258 community members who use drugs, and they answered over 100 questions related to their health, to supervised consumption services, to their needs and to their willingness to use a supervised consumption service,” said Rebecca Hare of Turning Point.

The data showed a wide range of information, all coming to the conclusion the majority of participants were willing to use supervised consumption services in Red Deer, and the majority were willing to use at Turning Point specifically, followed by Safe Harbour. Of the drugs, injection drugs were close to 80% at the highest.

Currently the province is looking at the feasibility study and had made no commitments to the community of Red Deer.

“It would be our interpretation of the research that we would benefit from a supervised consumption service in Red Deer,” said Stacey Carmichael of Turning Point.

She said she’s never felt like the provincial or federal governments want to just dismiss the municipal government, and said that obviously council felt otherwise.

Among the many topics discussed by Turning Point, one that came up in their presentation was a ‘sweep’.

They talked about hiring a staff person to do a sweep in terms of the needle debris found downtown, which is something in their report to the province due at the end of September, as part of their proposal.

“We want to be a good neighbour, we want to be part of the community, part of the solution, and so in response to the increase in needle debris across the City we want to provide an immediate response,” said Sarah Fleck of Turning Point.

Fleck added that in the mornings before businesses open they would have a person walk around and do a foot sweep, looking for pieces of needles and other drug paraphernalia, which she said would be part of the funding.

In regards to funding or approval, Carmichael said they hope to hear from the province in early January.

Because the preferred location mentioned in their presentation was Turning Point, which is located downtown Red Deer, renovations were talked about, in terms of improving the exterior of the facility and renovating the main floor service space. They would also move offices upstairs and would again rely on the province for that funding.

“We need their recommendation to complete our federal exemption and we need their funding to operate this service, so we’re waiting on the province and hopefully we’ll hear from them early in the New Year and we’ll submit our complete federal exemption application,” said Carmichael.

She said those applications take as little as three weeks for approval so they could potentially get rolling to open in spring or summer.

Carmichael said she would be surprised if Red Deer wasn’t approved for supervised consumption services, and questions why it’s a health issue and why addictions in particular requires so much consultation.

“I believe all citizens of Red Deer should be heard and talked to, but I’m wondering why we go to such an extent for particular groups of folks when we don’t for everybody,” she said.

Veer said it’s important to note they all care deeply about the people of the community.

And she became emotional in her response to the issues faced by the City’s vulnerable.

“I think every single one in this room knows of someone who has suffered from addictions or who has been lost to addictions, but also as mayor I care deeply about the people that I serve,” said Veer.

She added she has been frustrated with how people’s lives and how the effects of addictions have been oftentimes sensationalized.

“We need to absolutely move towards response and show dignity and respect for families who have lost someone.”

Council unanimously passed a resolution that directs administration to bring forward a report to the Nov. 27th council meeting on the land use and development process for supervised consumption services in Red Deer, including options for process, consultation, development authorities and locational criteria.

carlie.connolly@reddeerexpress.com

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