Richard McDonell (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

Update: Red Deer council hears emotional arguments for location for drug consumption site

Three Red Deer health clinics are taken off the table

Self-described drug addict Cassandra Fink told Red Deer council to “honour the voices” of the people who would use a supervised-injection site – and locate it at Turning Point.

With 30 years of relationship-building in Red Deer, the downtown harm-reduction group was the top choice for most addicted local people surveyed about where the service should be operated.

“If you’re going to ask the people, then listen to what they have to say,” said Fink.

The 38-year-old Fink has been using drugs off and on since she was sexually exploited at age of 12 and involved in gang activity at age 14.

Although she is not using at present, Fink said she is always in danger of relapsing. And like most drug users, she wouldn’t go to the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre for supervised-consumption services because of its “institutional” atmosphere.

Fink was among about 35 people who crowded into council chambers to give public input on a location for a site.

Six possible locations were initially considered, but council later took the three Red Deer health-care clinics off the table after many residents pointed out they were too close to neighbourhoods and children. Alberta Health Services also stated the clinics didn’t have enough room, and the service didn’t fit with other clinic services.

Turning Point, Safe Harbour and the Red Deer Regional Hospital Cetnre are still under consideration, as council begins deliberations about site location Wednesday.

Many local residents who spoke at Tuesday’s hearing made impassioned arguments about why putting another social services program in downtown Red Deer was both unfair and destructive to core residents and businesses.

Richard McDonell, who co-manages the Old Court House, stated needles and other drug activity, break-ins – even a stoned couple who had sex on his building’s front lawn in mid-afternoon – are driving companies and customers out of the downtown.

“What defines a city is not its periphery, but its core,” said McDonell, who questioned why the central business district is the being turned into a “skid row?”

Business owners, Lorna-Watkinson-Zimmer and Julie Vale, spoke about how their hopes for a revitalized downtown would be destroyed by the addition of a supervised-consumption site at Turning Point. “I employ six young ladies – and we’re frightened,” said Vale, who described investing everything she owned into her business. “It’s my life.”

But the mother of a opioid addict, who passed away from an infection, urged council to give the program to “the place that has the support and the means” – Turning Point. “Everyday someone else is dying,” said Christine Harris. “Let’s get it done and save some lives.”

Dr. Michael Mulholland, a doctor at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, also favoured Turning Point, because of its relationship with drug users. He said Red Deer has a moral obligation to care for the most vulnerable of its citizens.

Drug addicts “really don’t want to be using. Nobody says I’m having a fantastic time on meth. They’re not – they’re suffering.”

Many spoke of the need for a long-term local drug recovery and treatment program, and Mulholland said safe consumption is “another piece of the puzzle.”

While members of various social service agencies repeatedly stated Turning Point was the only option, council kept Safe Harbour on the table – even though its administrator stated she will not operate the program, lacking space and resources.

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre will also be part of council’s discussion Wednesday, because addiction is being viewed as a medical problem.

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Dr. Michael Mulholland (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

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