A harm reduction agency is well aware it is under the community microscope as it begins to develop plans for its supervised drug consumption site.
“We do recognize with a new service, comes fear. So we’re trying to understand it and get people to a place where they feel safer,” said Turning Point clinical manager Sarah Fleck.
Nearby business owners have made it clear they oppose the location, but Turning Point does have almost two months experience operating a similar service.
“Because of our proactive approach, our community liaison position, and our safety co-ordinator that’s on site all hours that we’re open, we’re able to mitigate a lot of those concerns and we will continue to do that,” said Fleck.
Hyper vigilance from the community was anticipated, she said.
On Monday, city council approved an application to amend the Land Use Bylaw to make way for a supervised drug consumption site in Railyards. The next step is getting a development permit.
Turning Point wants to move its office to 5233 54th Ave., where it would operate the consumption site to provide a safe, hygienic space for people to consume previously obtained drugs while being medically monitored.
Since Oct. 1, the agency has run a similar overdose prevention site in an ATCO trailer located in the Safe Harbour Society’s nearby parking lot.
But the consumption site will have inhalation booths that the overdose site does not have, as well as wrap-around health and social supports.
Fleck said there will likely be some sort of staggered approach to opening the consumption site to offer services as soon as possible while renovations are still underway.
Deborah Watson, Central Alberta leader with Moms Stop The Harm, was grateful city council approved the application.
“It is an excellent decision and shows our city is capable of being a compassionate place for our most vulnerable citizens,” Watson said.
She would like the city to go further and publicly support the consumption site, similar to the support shown by Lethbridge’s mayor and council.
“(Lethbridge) held public information and education night at Lethbridge College, where experts presented facts and the public could ask questions. This is desperately needed,” Watson said.
Fleck said Turning Point continues to be open to hosting community sessions, but believes one-on-one discussions are more effective for meaningful conversation.
Since the overdose site opened Oct. 1, staff have provided medical intervention during 48 suspected opioid overdoses. Drug booths have been used 1,875 times, and 154 people have visited the site.
Fleck said new clients are coming since operations expanded to 16 hours a day and until midnight.
“Our day shift is still somewhat busy, but the evening shift is when there’s the majority of people.”