By Gillian Slade on July 31, 2018.
A location for the Medicine Hat supervised consumption site has not been made public but those who believe it will affect them are already expressing concerns.
“What many people cannot absorb is that we are allowing criminals to carry illegal drugs to an area and use them in an area that has been designated a safe area — safe for who,” asks Rob Cowan a member of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, an organization similar to the Masons. “What about the facilities and people that live in this area?”
RAOB leases space in the building that used to house the Captain’s Cabin at 140 Maple Ave., and believes a decision has been made and that it will affect them.
“We are not in a position yet to comment publicly about location,” said Shannon Hennig, director of harm reduction services HIV Community Link, which has received funding from Alberta Health to establish and operate a safe consumption site in Medicine Hat. “We will be working with the tenants proactively … laying the ground work for a positive relationship going forward.”
RAOB trustee Peter Allibone attended a meeting with Leslie Hill, executive director for HIV Community Link, and several others from the organization, to discuss concerns.
“We are vehemently opposed to it. I’m pretty sure their minds are made up even though we don’t have confirmation on it yet. Strictly speaking … the lease hasn’t been signed yet but I think it’s imminent,” said Allibone.
Some of the concerns stem from recent media reports about safe consumption in Lethbridge and Calgary.
Hennig says one issue is needle debris.
“I think that’s because the issue is now on peoples’ minds, it’s something that people are made more aware of,” said Hennig. “People are more likely to notice debris that could have been there since last winter.”
The number of needles handed out in Lethbridge has actually dropped 50 per cent because clients are getting needles to use at home or are using them inside the facility, she explained.
In Medicine Hat, there will be a needle cleanup every Wednesday with the help of volunteers, and data on collections will be made available, said Hennig.
“Right now it’s our staff that are doing it but we are working with the community to offer volunteer opportunities,” said Hennig.
Another issue at existing safe consumption sites is clients hanging around outsides.
“With our site, regardless of where it is … you won’t have to wait outside the building in order to access the service,” said Hennig.
There will enough space to come inside the building.
The plan is to offer services from 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week, said Hennig. There will be reduced hours initially to address any issues that may come up without the pressure of being open 16 hours a day.
The RAOB space is used by different members of the community for events such as weddings, wakes and general activities attended by women, children and seniors, said Cowan.
“There’s issues with security because with our meetings the door is open for obvious reasons because people are coming and going,” said Allibone. “We have a lease until April of next year. They want us to stay but obviously we are very concerned.”
Cowan questions the appropriateness of giving addicts using an illicit substance a place to consume opposite the Remand Centre and less than a block from the Medicine Hat Police Station.
“Until we can actually speak to where we are putting it we aren’t able to answer those specific questions,” said Hennig. “There is an unknown component to it. It is not our intention to be stirring up anxiety … It is really about managing expectations and once we’re in a position where we are ready to comment, and we can make this announcement public, then I think that we’ll be able to answer some of those questions.”
For the owners of the building it is a business opportunity with an opportunity to get a long-term lease, but for the RAOB, probably a case of ‘not-in-my-back-yard,’ said Allibone.
How to mitigate the concerns in the community is part of the planning process. It is not simply an individual issue or health issue, but rather a social and community issue, said Hennig, adding that once people are provided with an education about the opioid crisis in Medicine Hat they tend to understand the need.