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Forest Lawn CA withdraws support for proposed Calgary mobile supervised consumption unit

Forest Lawn residents were already “fractured” on support for a proposed mobile supervised consumption unit in their area, but recent social disorder crime statistics near the Sheldon Chumir site have the community association backing away altogether.

Will Carnegie, president of the Forest Lawn Community Association said HIV Community Link, the group behind the proposed mobile unit, has consulted with them from very early stages and done a good job of engaging and informing the community.

“They’ve done their due diligence,” Carnegie said.

“With that being said, it doesn’t seem like they have a large plan for post (drug) use.”

That’s concerning to Carnegie and other area citizens, including those in the other potential East Calgary locations of Albert Park and Southview, especially in light of a recent Calgary police service report showing a spike in social disorder crime around the Sheldon Chumir supervised consumption site.

According to Calgary police statistics, when compared with the entire city, which saw no increase in social disorder complaints over the past three years, the 250 metre-area around the Chumir saw a jump in social disorder complaints of 29 per cent over the three-year average, though it’s largely been attributed to methamphetamine use.

Carnegie said he believes most people in his community see the need and understand the benefit of having a supervised consumption site in the area.

“With what’s happened with this report that’s just come out, the only thing we can do is make decisions with the relevant information we have at the time, and so my decision to support that is no longer there,” he said.

“I can’t support a safe consumption site if we have new information that comes up stating the amount of harm could be so high to the community.”

The Calgary Police told LiveWire that they were proactively approached by HIV Community Link from early on in the planning stage and have developed an ongoing relationship.

“We fully anticipate that as they finalize their rollout, we will be able to integrate our planning regarding deployment and police response with them,” an emailed statement from the Calgary Police Service read.

“Mobile supervised consumption is new to Calgary and while we are aware of the issues surrounding the downtown supervised consumption facility, it is difficult to predict how that will translate to mobile SCS because of the various factors that are involved.”

A report in the Harm Reduction Journal published Jan. 10, 2019 reviewed the mobile consumption units in Kelowna and Kamloops, BC. It showed that 90 per cent of clients reported positive experiences in terms of services and physical safety in the unit.

The report also stated that the hours of operation met the needs of less than half the clients and the service providers weren’t happy with the space provided to do the job effectively – including managing overdose events and engaging in private conversations with clients.

Further challenges involved weather and other operational challenges that resulted in cancelled shifts and a disruption in services.

Leslie Hill, executive director of HIV Community Link, said the concept of a mobile unit came about through research done by the Calgary Coalition on Supervised Consumption, which  saw a need outside of the downtown core to provide services, primarily because clients won’t travel far to use it.

“They tend to serve people within a specific radius surrounding the service,” she said.

“The services need to be in places where people are already using substances.”

The longer-term plan is for a mail-truck or food-truck sized unit to service two locations, one in East Calgary and one on the east side of the downtown. Two medical staff will be on site to conduct health assessments of clients, monitor use, respond to potential overdoses and then monitor clients for up to 20 minutes after using.

They also have planned a minimum two-person community team that works outside of the vehicle.

“That team will work with our clients in the community, they’ll work with the community if there are any concerns. We’ll address if there are needle debris issues, client behavior and that type of thing,” said Hill.

While they won’t have the quick accessibility to wraparound services like the Sheldon Chumir location, they have been in consultation with the Alpha House Downtown Outreach Partnership (DOAP) team, community paramedics and the other providers that work with this population.

Hill said they’ve long known that meth was an issue in Calgary and have seen the problem grow over the past number of years. She said they’ve been planning for that in their rollout of the mobile unit.

“Unfortunately, the drug supply isn’t consistent and reliable and so a person who thinks that they have fentanyl might actually have meth, a person who think that they have meth might actually have fentanyl, some combination thereof – multiple substances in one dosage that people don’t know what they’re taking and don’t know what the response is going to be,” Hill said.

“Our staff will be trained to understand all of those substances and the behaviours coming along with them and respond appropriately.”

She said they’ve also considered contracting additional security but have been advised by teams in other communities that the service may be better provided by people not in uniform.

“Whereas if our staff know a client, have a relationship with them, can walk up and say ‘hey, how are you doing, what’s going on, what are your needs?’ Versus, the approach a security team might take, which would be a move along sort of approach.

She said the outreach teams has been a part of the community information sessions but recognized that community members might not understand that includes the behaviour management of clients after their use.

Still, Carnegie isn’t sure it’s a salvageable situation. He calls the endeavour a noble goal given that he says East Calgary has the second most overdose call outs next to the downtown.

“I don’t want people in Forest Lawn or East Calgary dying of overdose,” he said.

“I think that I have a membership base that was pretty fractured to begin with and I definitely stood up for the merits of what the safe consumption site was trying to do.

“Nobody wants to see it in their community, but there’s a necessity for it here. To the degree that people are willing to accept that if there was a small social impact, they were willing to pay that price. But given that it does seem that it’s a large impact, my community likely won’t support this project at all.”

HIV Community Link’s application for Health Canada supervised consumption exemption is still under review. Hill said their work is ongoing to prepare for the unit, but couldn’t be specific on the timeline for deployment.