Renovations now underway for Lethbridge's first Safe Consumption Site

By Lara Fominoff @fomsy1 on Twitter
October 20, 2017 - 2:14pm Updated: October 20, 2017 - 3:11pm

LETHBRIDGE - Old sinks, furniture, wires and other assorted debris cover the floor of the old Pulse Nighclub on 1 Avenue South in Lethbridge. The dance floor and bars are covered in dust, and the entire place looks dingy and old.
 
But there are also glimpses of a new beginning. Two by fours have been brought for framing walls, and a giant dumpster with dozens of black plastic bags full of garbage, sits outside of the west-facing door.
 
It's literally "out with the old and in with the new."
 
In about two-and-a-half months, the building will be transformed into Alberta's first Health Canada approved Safe Consumption Site.
 
Environment Minister Shannon Phillips says the province was very clear with the Federal Government, that they were looking to fast-track the exemptions for Lethbridge and Edmonton.
 
"The province took a leadership position on this in terms of its funding. So this space, over the next year and some, will benefit from $2 million in provincial investment which will assist people with substance use dependency, and will assist our downtown businesses. We will ensure that people are getting the treatment they need for a crisis that is only increasing, and is causing a lot of human devastation."
 
Mayor Chris Spearman admits that there has been concern about why this particular facility has been given priority, to which he replies, that the issue with opioids and other illicit drugs wasn't nearly as prevalent and invasive several years ago as it is now, and the city needed to act quickly.
 
"It's a significant social issue in our city. Not one that a municipality would normally be responding to...we've spent money on things because we just didn't want to wait....we have been supporting this with our city resources saying 'this is an important issue to address.' You have to remember four years ago, this didn't exist. It's come up in the last two years as a serious social issue and I'm pleased that we're responding as quickly as we can."
 
The Lethbridge Police Service agrees. Inspector Tom Ascroft says LPS supports the safe consumption site, viewing it as a crime prevention tool. He says police don't anticipate it causing a lot of problems in terms of community safety.
 
"We'll see less of the needle debris, the public consumption of drugs, the disorder that happens. I think from the policing perspective, this is a positive thing.
 
"Society has shifted in its way of thinking," he explains. "Our correctional centre here holds... off the top of my head.. 300 people. We estimate there's 3000 people using in Lethbridge. So it's not possible [to put everyone in jail]. It doesn't work. And they're addicted. They're not going to stop because we put them in jail for 30 days. It's a very short-sighted, old-fashioned way of thinking about the problem. I'm more interested in what's going to work, and in terms of law enforcement, we do way better with the dealers. The people who bring the drugs in and supply the drugs.Those are the people we need to put in jail."
 
Stacey Bourque, ARCHES Exective Director, says they're excited to get the renovations underway, and they're in the process of gathering/hiring a number of specialists.
 
"So the staffing complement will consist of registered nurses or LPNs, harm reduction specialists and addictions counsellors. There will be five staff on at a time working that area of the building to provide supports and as many wrap-around services as we can to the people who are accessing the service."
 
Bourque also explains that ARCHES will work with the community to try and address the root causes of the incredible growth of opioid and methamphetamine use and addiction.
 
"I think there's a lot of misconceptions around people coming into the facility and them just being able to use drugs and then leave and there's nothing else available to them and that we're enabling their use. In fact, the relationship that we build with these individuals, and our ability to wrap up health care supports and social supports around them to address all of the other issues, whether it be housing or physical health issues or mental health issues or trauma, having that on site actually helps move people along.
 
"When they want the help, we're where they come. We don't expect that will change. The more access we have to people who use drugs, the safer they feel, the longer we can keep them alive. It means they can make a better decision on another day. If they die, obviously they lose that opportunity."
 
Bourque also understands that the site is contoversial, but says tax dollars are already being spent to deal with the problem that is only getting bigger.
 
"Whether it's for police service intervention, EMS intervention, hospitalization, emergency room visits. All of that stuff plays a role and tax dollars go to pay for that. This is a much cheaper option, than continuing to put pressure on those emergency services in our community."
 
The target date for opening at this point is Jan. 2, 2018. Arches will receive about $1.6 million per year in continued funding from the province.
 

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