By Lethbridge Herald on August 12, 2020.
The announcement by ARCHES it will be ceasing its supervised consumption services and needle collection as of Aug. 31 was welcomed by some business owners in close proximity to the SCS, but is also of great concern to community harm reduction advocates.
A letter obtained on Wednesday by local media sent out by ARCHES to neighbouring business owners dated Aug. 7 confirmed that supervised consumption, needle collection and outreach services will end Aug. 31, and that the organization will vacate the downtown site by Sept. 30.
According to a statement released by ARCHES following media inquiries about the letter, the organization is working with Alberta Health to wind down these services and support plans for service transition.
“With the announcement of the SCS and Needle Debris Pick Up Program being defunded by the Alberta Government on July 22,” the statement reads in part, “ARCHES has worked closely with Alberta Health in order to ensure a smooth program transition for all impacted clients and stakeholders. ARCHES sent notice to the neighbouring businesses of the SCS, as it was important for them to know that needle debris pick-up and walking outreach would not be provided by ARCHES as of Aug. 31.”
The impending closure of the current SCS comes on the heels of a decision announced by the province last month it would be defunding ARCHES as an organization after an audit revealed serious fiscal mismanagement.
According to a statement released to The Herald on Wednesday by the office of Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan, a new mobile supervised consumption site should be operational in the city by next Monday.
“The mobile overdose prevention site, operated by Alberta Health Services, will be operational beginning Monday, Aug. 17,” it reads, “allowing for the seamless transition of clients as the grant agreement with ARCHES for the existing supervised consumption site ends. The site will work with local partners, like the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre, with a heavy emphasis on access to recovery-oriented supports, such as transitional shelter, detox and referral to treatment.”
Some nearby business owners welcomed the ARCHES SCS closure announcement.
The Grey Goat owner Becky Allen says she was effectively “forced out” of her previous location on 1st Avenue South to her current one near Mayor Magrath Drive due to having the SCS in such close proximity to her business only two doors down. She was pleased to see the ARCHES-run facility finally closed in the city.
“I think it’s a good decision,” she said. “It’s kind of what I wanted from the beginning. It was disappointing the way it was run altogether. I feel like they could have had better programs put in place before they just threw it onto the city.”
She just wished the decision to close had come sooner.
“I was at a point where I couldn’t afford to keep the doors open anymore,” she said. “I lost that much business. I either needed to move or I needed to shut down. We dealt with all the leftover drug paraphernalia. There were always needles around the store and in our back alley where we received stock. There was always loitering and people hanging around. Customers were scared to get out of their cars.”
Sukrulla Khan, owner of SK Signs and Graphic Design which sits just across the alley behind the supervised consumption site, said while the SCS did not significantly impact his business in economic terms, he nonetheless was relieved it would be closing due to the social disorder he witnessed every day around the site.
“We see the people who are coming and going,” he said, “and lots of activities going on: yelling and fighting, and police coming and arresting them or interrogating them. I don’t think this (service) benefits the people, or any of us as Canadians.”
While some local business owners may be relieved by the decision to close the supervised consumption site, harm reduction advocates say its closure will lead to more overdose deaths in the city.
Concerned citizen and Sage Clan volunteer Stephnie Watson said what they/them is hearing from their work on the streets with Lethbridge’s homeless population is there has been a significant increase in overdoses and overdose deaths already in the city these past few months as ARCHES has reduced its SCS hours. Watson did not think the province’s plans to bring in a mobile supervised consumption site would be able to keep up with the large need for harm reduction services in the community formerly provided by ARCHES.
“If this were really about helping the people, even with the financials of ARCHES,” Watson said, “the government had the option of coming in and taking it over to make sure the health services would still be provided to these people who need them. Instead, we are now going to be looking at having reduced services. The mobile unit won’t be able to keep up with the services needed.”
Watson is also concerned about needle debris proliferation throughout the city now that ARCHES will no longer be providing needle pick up.
“There are a lot of volunteer groups that go out and do needle collection, but the source of their (clean-up) supply to do that needle pick up had been the SCS,” Watson stated. “Without that source there, I don’t know how some of the volunteer groups are going to be able to get clean needle boxes or know what to do with their dirty needle boxes. There is a huge gap that is going to be developing in our community.”
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