Red Deer city council is expected to make a decision on whether to allow a safe consumption site at a contentious downtown location on Nov. 26.
Council heard from more than two dozen speakers during a five-hour marathon public hearing on Tuesday night. Shortly after 11 p.m., council closed the hearing and tabled the rest of the meeting until council’s Nov. 26 session.
Council chambers was packed and even an overflow room was filled as more than 100 residents turned out for the public hearing on a proposed safe consumption service site downtown.
Turning Point has proposed locating supervised consumption services at 5233 54 Ave., just around the corner from Safe Harbour.
The application to amend the Land Use Bylaw to allow for the safe consumption service has proven controversial. Twenty-five people had signed up to address Red Deer city council at a public hearing that began at 6 p.m. and was still going strong at 10 p.m. with more than a dozen left to speak.
There was little debate that help was needed for those facing opioid addictions. However, a number of speakers said the proposed Rail Land location is the wrong place.
Gareth Scott just opened his new business, Fetch Haus, in the neighbourhood in March. The October opening of Turning Point’s temporary overdose prevention site in an ATCO trailer at Safe Harbour nearby has led to increasing problems.
Drug addicts have come stumbling by his pet grooming and retail business screaming, even during his grand opening. Staff have been threatened, he said.
Scott said it would be a mistake to put a permanent consumption site nearby.
“What about my small business? What do I do when my clients don’t come back?
“We have literally had customers running to their vehicles,” he said.
Gayle Leasack, who owns Pegasus Builders, said no one wants people to die from but this is the wrong site to offer them help. Clients from the temporary service are loitering, sleeping, begging and harassing people.
Businesses who were considering moving into a new building Pegasus is constructing are having second thoughts because of the issues.
“We did have some tenants. They are backing off. They don’t want to commit to this.”
Ian Vaughan said the city must do something to help deal with a problem that has cost dozens of drug users’ lives this year in Red Deer.
“You may not like their choices, but that’s what’s happening,” he said.
“If we have the ability to protect these people we need to do it.”
Walter Wiley, president of the Central Alberta Archers Association, is also against the location, which would be located next door.
Since a temporary site was opened the amount of debris, including needles, has increased significantly. He fears for the young archers leaving the club at night.
”The area is already under enough strain with the services that are currently there,” said Wiley. “I don’t believe the neighbourhood can sustain that — I really don’t.”
Turning Point Society executive director Tracey Carmichael said they will take steps to address neighbourhood concerns. A dedicated staff person will be on duty seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to do sweeps of the area and pick up drug-related debris and to act as liaison with local businesses.
The site will have 24-hour video surveillance and an on-site safety co-ordinator to ensure staff, clients and the community remain safe.
It would have a dozen or more booths for clients to take drugs. Primary health care would also be offered on site, where harm reduction services such as outreach, referrals, health promotion would also be offered.
The organization said there is urgency to do something to address the opioid crisis, which claims two Albertan lives each day. Red Deer has the highest rate of fentanyl-related deaths — double the provincial average — among Alberta’s municipalities.
Some of those who spoke in favour of the location pointed out it was close to other services often used by those with drug issues.
City planning manager Emily Damberger said several sites were investigated before settling on the proposed site, which best met the needs.
Several doctors who work with drug addicts said the facility is much needed and the location proposed is a good way of reaching those most in need.
Given the number of speakers, council was not expected to make a decision on Tuesday night.