By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on August 15, 2020.
The anticipated shuttering of the ARCHES-run supervised consumption site at the end of the month brings to a close an experimental and, at times, divisive chapter in the history of Lethbridge.
While it is undeniable that the SCS was opened with good intentions with the hopes of addressing an overdose crisis in the city, it quickly became apparent the SCS could not exist on its own as the means toward that end without adding more treatment beds, after-care recovery counselling and supportive housing in Lethbridge to complement what it was doing at the street level to save the lives of local addicts.
This reality, combined with revelations about serious fiscal mismanagement at ARCHES last month, spelled the end of the supervised consumption site as we know it.
What comes next for addressing the ongoing addiction issues, and associated negative social behaviours, we have in the city will certainly be a new direction with the province choosing to pivot toward a recovery community model, which will have limited focus on harm reduction and greater focus on treatment and recovery.
The current SCS under this model will be replaced with a mobile Winnebago-style unit located near the existing homeless shelter which will be specially equipped to provide limited spaces for supervised consumption services. Given the current SCS is considered the busiest in Canada, only time will tell if this type of mobile unit will be up to task.
The province has also made some strong investments in the community in recent months in treatment, recovery and supportive housing, but most analysts agree these will not cover the extent of the drug problem we have in Lethbridge once fully operational. Still, these investments will undoubtedly help.
As divisive as the SCS was, it did open up important conversations within the city about how we deal with homelessness and addiction. And, for the most part, it revealed that residents of the city do care about helping our vulnerable population, even when profoundly disagreeing at times about how best to do that.
That is what we as a city must take forward from this. We must continue to find ways to help as best we can, maintain our compassion, and retain our resolve to come up with creative and positive solutions to move our city forward on a better footing in the face of these grave social ills which confront us.
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