Red Deer council left its options open by giving initial approval for six possible locations for a supervised drug consumption site in the city.
At a special meeting Monday, council resolved to consider allowing the site to open at the Turning Point or Safe Harbour facilities, Red Deer hospital, or the health clinics in Johnstone Park, 49th Street, or Bremner Avenue.
Administrators had presented four recommended locations for council’s consideration. As well as Turning Point, Safe Harbour and Red Deer hospital, a mobile unit was suggested. But council wasn’t in favour of the latter, since a mobile unit can’t easily be regulated.
Councillors unanimously agreed to direct administrators to suggest new bylaws by the end of January that could be applied to help regulate mobile units.
Adding the city’s three community health clinics as possible locations for the supervised drug consumption site was suggested by Coun. Dianne Wyntjes, since the facilities deal with health issues, and the opioid crisis is a major health concern.
Not all councillors liked this amendment, however. Mayor Tara Veer noted the health clinics are located close to some residential neighbourhoods. She and councillors Buck Buchanan, Vesna Higham, and Tanya Handley voted against Wyntjes’ amendment. But it was still carried by the majority of council, who wanted health clinics to be part of the discussion.
A public hearing on the site location will be held at 6 p.m. Dec. 19 in council chambers.
Council, which will be the authorizing body on the controversial question, wants to hear from individuals, businesses and social service groups, either at the meeting or in emailed comments over the next two weeks.
Council was previously told it had no say on whether a consumption site was needed in Red Deer. An Oct. 3 letter from the health minister bluntly stated municipal input was neither requested nor wanted, since a Turning Point needs assessment determined such a site was needed to deal with Central Alberta’s opioid crisis.
Council continued expressing frustration that its voice wasn’t heard, asking for a copy of a needs assessment on having a supervised consumption site in Red Deer.
The information vacuum caused Coun. Handley to be the one dissenting vote on possible location sites. Handley said she couldn’t make an informed decision because she lacked knowledge on the issue.
But Coun. Lawrence Lee said it’s better for council to at least have a say over land use, since “our hand has been forced” by the province.
Wyntjes and Coun. Ken Johnston spoke about the urgency of doing something to help stem the opioid crisis that is causing a high number of fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Red Deer.
While the community health clinics being considered as possible locations are close to residential areas, Wyntjes said it’s good to have all possibilities on the table before narrowing options. “The other downtown locations are close to the business community,” so someone will always be affected, she added.