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UCP to close Calgary’s only supervised consumption site: Why this can be devastating to those who need it

By Julieanne Acosta, June 17 2021—

The Alberta government announced on May 28th, 2021 that Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre’s supervised consumption site would be closing — only to move to two existing partner organizations’ facilities situated in more “appropriate locations.” In a quote from the department of mental health and addictions spokesperson, Justin Marshall stated:

“While we cannot announce those locations quite yet, we can confirm that they will be situated much closer to those who need such services. It frankly made little sense for those needing such facilities to need to walk up to 30 minutes one way to the Beltline to get the services they require.”

Simultaneously, Marshall refused to give any specific details about where the new sites are or when Sheldon Chumir’s supervised consumption site will close officially. Some may argue this is vital information yet the United Conservative Party (UCP) has declined to announce it. The main question people are asking is: Why would they do this now? Since the pandemic has started, overdose deaths have begun to rise drastically with those needing help being less likely to get it. In Edmonton alone, overdose deaths had almost doubled from 267 in 2019 to 485 in 2020. Alberta has faced its “deadliest year on record,” according to the Calgary Herald, with 1,144 opioid-related deaths in 2020, with an 83 per cent increase from the year before while numbers are trending upwards. 

Since it was announced that the safe consumption site was closing, many have turned to protests — the concerns being that the shutdown will result in unnecessary roadblocks for those who need the care. In Edmonton, three bodies were found dead from an apparent overdose – their bodies were found not far from where a supervised consumption centre would have been if they weren’t closed down. 

In Alberta, supervised consumption sites have a 100 per cent overdose reversal rate. It’s an alarming reality as some may not know the consumption site has been moved. Especially in dire situations when medical assistance is needed at that exact moment, this move to unspecified locations can have devastating effects on drug users. It is also worth noting that Mayor Naheed Nenshi suggested putting one central safe consumption site in Calgary — the Sheldon Chumir site — but has recently announced he believed it to be a mistake. 

The UCP argues that supervised consumption sites have been disruptive to the neighbourhood and has opted to move them to different locations that are supposed to be more appropriate. What that means remains vague. What the government does not take into consideration is that the Sheldon Chumir safe consumption site is the only one we have in Calgary and the safe consumption sites are not spread out around the city. 

“We need more [supervised consumption] facilities, but we also need treatment beds, and it’s really incumbent upon the provincial government to deliver on the commitments it made,” Ward 8 councillor Evan Woolley stated.

Calgary needs more of these facilities but has closed the central location and has not announced the new locations. Opening new locations is not the problem. Closing one that many have used and are accustomed to using can have horrific consequences and endanger those who need help. Harm reduction methods have proven continually to work and while opening new facilities is beneficial, closing the one location that individuals were able to use — all while not giving any details of the new locations — could result in a loss of life of someone who could have been saved.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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