LETHBRIDGE - If all of the approvals come through as expected, Lethbridge will be home to the province's newest safe injection site in as little as three months time. The news was delivered by ARCHES Executive Director Stacey Bourque at the latest Police Commission Meeting at Lethbridge City Hall on Wednesday. (Sept. 27)
ARCHES is a local harm reduction organization that provides compassionate, responsible, confidential and non-judgemental support to clients, their families and significant others.
Bourque says the new site will feature six booths for injecting, snorting or taking pills, and if approved, the first smoking room in any safe injection site in the western hemisphere. It will also contain showers, washrooms, a kitchen, laundry, and numerous other services.
"It will have nursing clinics, counselling offices for addictions counselling and mental health as well as chronic illness support services for people who are living with HIV and Hepatitis C, we'll continue to do the community based take-home naloxone program, our Housing First clinical team will run out of there, our cultural programming...drop in support services, computer access for individuals to work on things like vocational skills or building resumes."
The safe injection site will be located at 1016 1 Avenue South, in the building that used to house the Pulse Nightclub, across the street from the new Fit 4 Less building.
It will be open from 9 a.m. until 2 a.m. 365 days a year. Right now, the building is being gutted in preparation for the extensive renovations.
During the meeting there were questions regarding the location of the new site, and whether it would interfere with patrons at local bars.
Bourque doesn't believe that will occur.
"They're a couple of blocks apart. The populations generally are not intermingled. So our entrance is on the west side of the building, the bars are down towards the east. We don't anticipate that there will be a lot of desire for the people accessing our services to go further east.....and not a lot a lot of desire for the population accessing the clubs to come down our way."
The safe injection site will also have a "hot" zone around it, meaning that there will be increased police patrols in the area. Everyone who uses the site will also have to sign a contract indicating that they will not share, deal or use drugs anywhere outside of the building. Drug sharing inside will also be prohibited.
Need For The Safe Injection Site
Bourque was asked by Councillor Joe Mauro during the meeting what would happen should ARCHES discontinue its needle and equipment exchange program.
Currently, they distribute about 30,000 needles per month to users and those who get supplies for users, such as family members. That's nearly double the number from last Spring. There are around 3,000 addicts in the Lethbridge area, and 6,000 people who rely on supplies that ARCHES provides in southwestern Alberta.
If the needle exchange program was cut off, Bourque explained that HIV rates could skyrocket, other infectious diseases would become much more prevalent, and addicts would fashion their own needles out of things like ink tubes from pens.
She told the Commission "It's easy to teach kids not to touch needles. But what about pens? What about other things on the ground that could be contaminated?"
'Rock Bottom' Doesn't Exist For Some People
The idea of "rock bottom" she also explained in her presentation, is complicated because the threshold for everyone is different. It may not exist for some people.
That's why the safe injection site will also have medical professionals, counselling and support services for those who need or want it.
"You watch everything happen," Bourque explains."They lose the job. They lose the house. They don't have an income some of them for long periods of time. They lose custody of the kids, they lose relationships with family. They overdose multiple times. And none of those things are deterrents for people who use drugs.
"What that tells us when we talk about rock bottom is, what is 'rock bottom?' If death isn't enough, if losing your children isn't enough, if being homeless isn't enough, what's enough?"
Illicit Consumption Sites
Right now, Bourque explains there are a number of illicit consumption sites in the city. The biggest and most active one is underneath the Stafford Bridge.
Within the next few months, the Commission was told that CP Rail plans to cut the area off to all pedestrian traffic.
"We clean thousands of syringes out of there a month. And so CP Rail is intending, for safety purposes, to block off that space. So they are going to fence it off. And we know historically, when we push people out of certain areas of town, it pushes them into other areas."
That means addicts will then either find a way back into the area, or they will use somewhere else. It includes local neighborhoods, backyards, businesses, parks, garages or anywhere else where it may be semi- sheltered, and that during the wintertime, could have access to a vent or heat source.
Bourque says ARCHES wants to continue to answer people's questions as they move forward. One of those ways includes the general public learning about the purpose of the safe injection site.
For more information on the safe injection site contact ARCHES at 403-328-8186.
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