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Edmonton approves permit for 'health hub' that some in Ritchie, Strathcona are fighting


Boyle Street Community Services is one step closer to operating a community health hub, including an overdose prevention site near Whyte Avenue in Edmonton.

The city sent a letter to neighbours dated March 21 informing them that a development permit for the location of 10119-81 Avenue has been approved, despite a loud outcry from hundreds of residents and business leaders.

"The city understands that this approval may not reflect the desired outcome of many residents," it reads.

"We encourage the community to work with the applicant to increase their understanding of the area and to help mitigate any potential issues."

But the fight is not over for a group called Scona Concerned Citizens.

They've gathered more than 1,000 signatures on a petition against the proposed health hub and handed out signs to businesses in the area that read "FIND A BETTER LOCATION" and "#FIGHTTHESITE."

"We really believe that in addressing addiction, you need to consider the location that you're going to and not destroy or harm existing successful communities," said Rob Bligh of the community group.

“Within 500 metres of the proposed site, there are all kinds of people that we put at risk by the site. So three daycares, four seniors residences, several thousand residents that live in apartments, condominiums and houses. There are hundreds of businesses with hundreds of more employees, and so the density of the location is a problem."

Sterling Derk and his store have been part of the Ritchie community for more than 40 years.

He worries the facility, if given final approval, will put a halt to revitalization in the area.

“I think the health hub is welcomed in the community, but the location, I question,” he told CTV News Edmonton.

“Over the past 42 years we haven’t seen much. And in the past 10 years, we’ve seen a dynamic shift. A focus less on Whyte Ave and more off-Whyte Ave. And I think this will put a stop to that.”

Following a heated public meeting in January, Boyle Street acknowledged it has a lot of trust-building to do around Edmonton's first potential overdose prevention services south of the river.

The facility would be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. At least six workers – including a nurse, social worker, and security – would always be on site.

Housing outreach workers, mental health counsellors, clean-up crews and cultural support workers would also visit the site throughout the week.

An estimated 15 to 30 clients would visit the site each day.

“I think there’s lots of people who live and work in the community, who own businesses in the community, who see the situation is getting untenable," communications manager Elliot Tanti said.

"They’ve had to reverse overdoses themselves and know that the challenges are getting really significant. Our goal here is to alleviate the concerns and ultimately lead to outcomes for a community that is really struggling right now.”

Health hubs are provincially regulated, so the site still requires approval from the Alberta government before it can open.

“We have been clear that we are exploring new supervised consumption service locations in Edmonton to serve areas with unmet need, including south of the river," said spokesperson Colin Aitchison in a statement.

"Alberta Mental Health and Addiction recently received a formal application from Boyle Street regarding this potential site and we will have more to say following its review.”

Boyle Street hopes to have the facility up and running by this fall at the latest.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Marek Tkach and Alex Antoneshyn Top Stories

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