The Alberta government says it will close the supervised consumption site at Calgary’s Sheldon Chumir Health Centre and replace it with two new sites.
“We will be relocating the existing supervised consumption site, which has been highly disruptive to the neighbourhood, and instead add SCS [supervised consumption site] capabilities within two existing partner organizations’ facilities situated in more appropriate locations,” said Justin Marshall, press secretary to Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan, in an emailed statement Thursday evening.
The statement came after the Calgary Herald first reported the province’s plan to close the site, which has been the subject of controversy in the inner-city Beltline community since it opened in 2018 as part of the province’s strategy to combat the ongoing opioid crisis.
At the facility, individuals are able to pick up harm reduction supplies — such as new needles — and use their drugs in designated booths under the supervision of a registered nurse trained in overdose response.
Advocates for people with addictions have applauded the facility — the only one of its kind currently operating in Calgary — for saving lives, while critics have complained about an increase in crime and calls for police service in the vicinity.
Last year, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it was a mistake when he initially recommended the province open a single, centralized consumption site for the entire city.
“I suggested, let’s have one [site], put it in a big health-care facility where there are lots of wraparound services, and let’s study the heck out of it and figure out how it’s working, how it’s not working,” Nenshi said at the time.
“That was my suggestion, and [the province] took the suggestion. This was a mistake.”
Coun. Evan Woolley, who lost his brother to an overdose and whose ward includes the current consumption site, said he’s been assured by Luan’s office that the Chumir facility will not be closed without “multiple other facilities” first being opened.
“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,” Woolley said in an interview Thursday evening.
Marshall wouldn’t say which partner organizations the province is planning to work with on new supervised consumption sites in Calgary, nor where they would be located.
“Our government is committed to a high quality and easily accessible system of care for both mental health and addictions that includes a full continuum of supports, including services to reduce harm,” he said.
“Albertans deserve no less. People with addiction deserve no less.”
More than 1,300 people died from overdoses in Alberta last year, according to provincial data.
“We’re faced with this mental health and addictions crisis in our community,” Woolley said. “People are dying every single day from overdose.”