June 15th, 2024

Downtown group wants to be fair with safe consumption

By Gillian Slade on July 5, 2018.


gslade@medicinehatnews.com 
@MHNGillianSlade

Those with a business interest in the downtown core are taking a thoughtful approach to the possibility of a supervised consumption site being situated in the area.

The City Centre Development Agency is meeting next week with an official to gain more information about plans for HIV Community Link Calgary regarding its plan to establish a site in Medicine Hat.

“We do want to be very careful, as the CCDA, that we do not get into an ‘I would rather have it in your backyard as opposed to mine’ argument,” said Jeremy Silver, chair of the board of directors.

The most suitable area for a supervised consumption site is the downtown and North Railway areas, Leslie Hill, executive director HIV Community Link in Calgary, said in a recent interview.

While the CCDA is keeping the best interests of downtown businesses in mind, it would need a “fair” or “logistical” reason to take an opposing view, said Silver.

In order for a site to attract those who would use its services, it needs to be located within a kilometre of areas drug users regularly frequent. The building also needs to be large enough to provide a range of services, such as HIV testing, addiction counselling, assessment for housing, as well as be accessible to methadone replacement therapy, said Hill. These onsite services help to promptly address the person’s needs at whatever stage they are at.

The goal is to have a site open by the end of the year, said Hill.

“As a police service we are optimistic that there is going to be a net benefit to the community,” said Insp. Joe West, Medicine Hat Police Service.

Police come across discarded needles in the community and hope safe consumption will see that number reduced. Every community is unique so the full impact of the site, particularly in the immediate vicinity, is difficult to estimate, said West.

Hill has talked about possibly having enough room for people to congregate inside a building rather than outside.

“I think that is a wise decision on their part,” said West, noting the presence of people outside a venue may be intimidating to some.

West says there is not necessarily a lot of drug use downtown, but there are “instances and reports” of drug transactions in the downtown core. A range of initiatives are in place to deter that activity.

HIV Community Link held several stakeholder meetings in Medicine Hat last week and is planning more in the coming weeks. The purpose is to understand any concerns residents and businesses may have. Hill has promised there will be plenty of planning, and then adjustments will be made as necessary.

A startup grant of $900,000 from Alberta Health was given to HIV Community Link to start a safe consumption site in Medicine Hat. Funding to operate the facility would come from Alberta Health.

A safe consumption site does not supply illicit drugs. The user brings their own to the site so if an unintended overdose occurs, medical staff can administer an antidote.

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