Social service agencies in Calgary and Edmonton are currently working with the province to replace the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre supervised consumption site.
In a statement provided to LiveWire Calgary, the province said it was working with multiple agencies, including Alpha House and the Drop-In Centre, on proposals for smaller overdose prevention sites.
A 2021 letter, first reported on by CityNews, was signed by 19 social service agencies across the province called for locating supervised consumption sites within existing service providers. This included at shelter spaces.
“Alberta’s government has committed to improving service across the province through the introduction of quality standards and by integrating services to meet clients where they’re at,” said Eric Engler, press secretary for Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Mike Ellis.
Engler said that the proposals, once received, would be reviewed rapidly by the ministry.
Alpha House said in a statement that it was approached by the Alberta Government to explore the feasibility of operating an overdose prevention site within their facility.
“Overdose prevention sites are a critical piece of the harm reduction model, which we know is integral to the recovery-oriented system of care,” they wrote.
“We believe the government’s proposed model aligns with the continuum of care that Alpha House offers.”
They said they would be engaging with community stakeholders while they explore the opportunity with the provincial government.
Being under the influence affects shelter access
Speaking to LiveWire Calgary in January, homeless advocate Nigel Kirk said that shelters across the city have different access policies based on whether a client is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Shelters like the Drop-In and Alpha House will allow clients to enter, but not consume on site. Others won’t allow access at all.
He said that homeless Calgarians use drugs and alcohol as a method to cope with cold weather in addition to trauma.
“This is the double danger because when you’re when you’re under the influence, you can still get hypothermia—you don’t feel as cold,” he said.
Offering supervised and safe locations at shelters for the consumption of drugs is, said Kirk, making people safer.
“It is a barrier to getting shelter, and I’m not saying every shelter suddenly needs to start letting people who are under the influence in, or that every shelter needs to start allowing people to use, but I do think there needs to be space for a shelter that has an on-site safe supervised consumption place.”
The 2021 letter stated that the signatory agencies were asking the government to place supervised consumption sites closer to where clients were using, but also where addiction and mental services could be provided.
“We not only need a space for clients to use safely, we need resources to address and treat the underlying drivers of addiction and mental health. This includes immediate access to opioid agonist treatment (OAT), mental health and psychiatric supports, substance detoxification, transition beds, primary care, and access to recovery-oriented services including treatment and psychosocial supports.”
Budget 2022 sees increase in overdose prevention funding
Program supports and funding for addiction and mental health increased with the release of Alberta's 2022 budget.
Addiction and Mental Health budgeting increased from $139 million in 2021 to $154 million in 2023. Similarly, program supports, which includes salaries, supplies, and support services for programs, increased from $3.9 million in 2021 to $6.5 million in 2022.
The province stated that the 2022 budget was investing to implement recovery-oriented care via community based services.
According to the Alberta substance abuse surveillance system, there were 316 deaths from specified substances including opioids in 2019, 457 in 2020, and 379 to date in 2021. Data for 2021 is available up to October of that year.