Emotions ran high as hundreds of people gathered in Red Deer on Tuesday night to participate in the province’s review of supervised consumption services.
“It’s good to see that kind of interest. People are really committed to their community and want to make it better, I think that’s demonstrated in the numbers we’re seeing,” said Supervised Consumption Services Committee Chair Rod Knecht.
The panel is looking into the social and economic impacts of proposed and current supervised consumption sites.
Concerns about crime, needle debris and safety were common themes for speakers in addressing the impact of the city's current overdose prevention site, with one calling it "a haven for thieves and degenerates."
In July, Red Deer RCMP stated they've seen an increase in crime around the overdose prevention site which receives around 3,700 visits each month.
“I think the public safety’s first. I think right now they’re putting the criminal element, drug users ... they’re putting their needs before the tax paying, honest hardworking citizens,” said Robert Bonin at the meeting, adding he believes rehabs or jails should be used to treat addiction.
Shaune Fandry also spoke in opposition to the safe consumption services. She is a foster mom who says she has two former foster children on the streets.
“I do believe addiction is a health care issue and we need to put resources appropriately into health care," she said.
"I don’t understand the point of simply allowing people to continue their addiction. I call them band aid solutions, they’re incredibly frustrating to me."
SHOW OF SUPPORT
Along with the criticism there were residents who spoke in favour of the site, and in favour of supervised consumption site service being expanded.
“We need to remove the barriers to harm reduction services not take away what few life-saving supports we have,” said one speaker.
“When it opened up, Red Deer had the highest death rate per capita. With the OPS opening up we dropped to the lowest overdose death rate per capita in Alberta,” said Shawn Pickett, a board member with Turning Point.
“I think that if people shut the OPS down or if supervised consumption services are shut down with the anticipation that crime is going to go away, I think we’re going to be disappointed.”
Along with the town halls across the province the committee is also accepting submissions via email.
“We’re getting a lot of responses online, in fact we were a little taken aback at the number of online responses we got,” said Knecht.
A report on the panel’s findings is expected to finished by mid-December.