LETHBRIDGE -- A local harm reduction agency says it will reach out to surrounding businesses to listen to and address concerns, now that a site has been chosen for a supervised drug consumption site in Lethbridge.
On the edge of downtown, the Pulse nightclub building at 1016-1 Ave. S. will become the home of the consumption site, operated by ARCHES, if approval is given by Health Canada. That's expected in six to eight months, as the federal government works to process applications from across the country.
The site will not only provide a safe place for the consumption of illegal drugs, but access to counselling and medical supports. With a growing opioid crisis, it's seen as more important than ever, and has the support of the Lethbridge Executive Leaders Coalition on Opioid Use.
"The reality, unfortunately, in Lethbridge is that we're already seeing really high volumes of calls for drug debris pickups, for responses from fire and EMS," explained Jill Manning, managing director of ARCHES. "A facility like this helps to solve those issues, because it provides a central location where that's the specific purpose for that location. We know that petty crime does not go up."
Manning said the existing ARCHES facility on 6 Ave. S. was not suitable due to its residential setting, with a day care centre nearby. By contrast, 38 per cent of emergency responses to overdoses are concentrated within a 1.5 km radius of the 1 Ave. location. It's near transit, and away from residential areas.
"The research shows that these facilities don't have a negative impact on the businesses around them," Mayor Chris Spearman said, "so we're confident that the location is the correct one, and that this will be a success in the city."
Manning said they will make neighbourhood management a priority, with strong relationships with their neighbours. The supervised consumption service is considered a permitted use under the existing zoning and is not expected to require city approval. The concept was presented to council in May, and Spearman said it's a community solution to a serious crisis.
"We are committed to addressing social issues in the community," he added. "To do nothing would allow the crime rate to increase, would allow more needless deaths."
Spearman said he made the case to the federal department of health on a recent visit to Ottawa that the drug problem is not exclusive to big cities.
"We have consumption going on right now, we have needle debris going on right now," Lethbridge Police Insp. Tom Ascroft said. "This will put it in a central location that's easier to manage and control."
A number of services currently offered by ARCHES on 6. Ave. will move to the new site, Manning said.
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