By Lethbridge Herald on January 20, 2020.
Study also shows Downtown Clean and Safe Strategy is working
A 13-month study commissioned by city council on the social impacts of the supervised consumption site validated many of the concerns people have expressed about increasing social disorder and anti-social behaviour in the immediate area surrounding the site, but also validated the City of Lethbridge’s mitigation strategy to help local businesses deal with some of these effects.
“When we knew consumption services were first coming to Lethbridge, a literature review was done,” explained City of Lethbridge Urban Revitalization manager Andrew Malcolm, who co-presented with U of L researcher Em Pijl during Monday’s Community Issues Committee meeting. “And in that review, it identified that there were very few impacts to (opening) this type of thing. But the studies all related to Vancouver, Sydney … and other major cities. We weren’t comfortable with that. We figured the City of Lethbridge being a small to mid-sized city would have different implications, which is why we initiated the study before the consumption site opened. In hindsight, that was a great decision by the City of Lethbridge as well as the Heart of Our City Committee — because now we do have a baseline.”
The study ran between January 2018 and February 2019, but took longer to compile than previously expected because some of the data sets requested by researchers were not made available to them despite repeated requests. The Lethbridge Police Service, in particular, was singled out by lead researcher Pijl for not providing the crime data in the area of the SCS she needed to complete her comparison between what was heard and seen in her survey and actual crime statistics over the observation period.
However, stated Pijl, the picture her research painted was clear.
“Overall, it paints a picture we have social disorder in our downtown,” explained Pijl, summarizing her findings. “It was a longitudinal study over 13 months, and explored the perceptions and observations of people who run businesses in the downtown areas of Lethbridge. And it basically showed there is increasing anti-social behaviour and social disorder related primarily to the drug crisis that is happening, and other lacks of services we are experiencing.”
“In the 100-metre-zone around the site there is a concentration of people who are coming for services because prior to that this was a commercial area,” she added, “there were some bars in the area; so any activity we see would be at night related to alcohol. With the site, we have a group of disenfranchised people with rather complex needs coming to the area for service and wrap-around services. They come there for housing help. They come for social services, health care, and also substance use that is safe so they don’t overdose and die.”
Malcolm said having the baseline study completed using academic research methods and cross-checked with an actual data-set would pay dividends for the City’s drug strategy and advocacy efforts going forward.
“To make decisions purely on what people just feel is always challenging,” he said. “For us, it’s nice to have a statistical, arms-length report from the University of Lethbridge to justify that. It is nice to know what people are talking about in the community is, in fact, what we’re seeing through the report. For us, it validates it and allows us to make very measured decisions going foward.”
He admitted it might be frustrating to some community members and council members there was no “silver bullet” coming out of the study, but it did validate what the City’s Downtown Clean and Safe Strategy is trying to do in response to the drug crisis, he said.
“For us, it confirms and gives us the ability to look at what the area was dealing with before the consumption site was added, some of the things that happened as that consumption site ramped up, and the year from the date of opening where we are from a community perspective,” Malcolm confirmed. “And what that allows us to do is have a baseline. So that as we initiate new mitigation methods from the Clean Sweep Program, Diversion Outreach Team and some of the other things funded from Downtown Clean and Safe Strategy, we are able to see whether or not they are impacting in a positive manner the environment around the consumption site.”
From her discussions with business owners around the SCS, stated Pijl, the Downtown Clean and Safe Strategy appears to be “money well spent” by city council.
“The respondents in the study were very pleased particulary with ARCHES programs like the COPE Team, and programs like DOT from CMHA,” she explained. “And the needle retrieval and needle pickup program, they are very pleased with that, and that’s across the city — people very much value that service.”
Pijl said her report also highlights the huge gap in services Lethbridge has when it comes to dealing with the secondary effects of the drug crisis.
“We need more services, and we are not funded at the same rate as other cities in Alberta,” she concluded. “We seem to have big-city problems, and if you use substances there are very few places to go where you can access things like detox, rehab and all these things.
“There is a long laundry list of things we need, and it may even get worse.”
The full report is available on the City of Lethbridge website, and is also enclosed in the CIC agenda package from Monday’s meeting.
Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter