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Nenshi: 'The answer is not close down the facility' as CPS reports rise in crime around Sheldon Chumir

Last Updated Feb 2, 2019 at 3:23 pm MDT

Photo by 660's Lucas Meyer
Summary

A Calgary police report shows a 29% increase in calls for service in the Beltline compared to the 3-year average

The 2018 statistics for both crime and disorder show a significant percentage change in the buffer area.

Coun. Evan Woolley has issued a notice of motion along with recommendations to address the issue.

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — Crime rates have risen dramatically around the city’s only supervised consumption site.

According to a new report from the Calgary Police Service, which examined a 250-metre buffer zone around the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre, CPS are seeing a 20 per cent increase in calls for service compared to the 3-year average.

A 579 calls were made to the Chumir location, a 15 per cent increase in disorder calls, a 276 per cent increase in drug-related calls, a 47 per cent increase in violence, a 45 per cent increase in break and enters and a 63 per cent increase in vehicle crime.

The site, designed predominantly with opioid users in mind, is now seeing a dramatic increase in meth-related activity.

In 54,473 client visits to the site from Oct. 30, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2018.

Unwanted guests, suspicious persons, loitering, drug use, drug traffic, needle debris, and garbage, has also triggered concern.

Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley has been a supporter of the project, the Chumir is located within his inner-city ward. He’s issued an urgent notice of motion with urgent recommendations he’s hoping his council colleagues will pass.

“Over the last couple of months, I have seen and watched with increasing worry; increases in concern around public safety and crime,” Coun. Woolley said.

“We stood when we opened the facility and made a commitment to keep the neighbourhood safe. I believe the success of safe consumption services facilities around this country is based on our ability to have these spaces operate in a place where residents and businesses can be safe, and move in and about their daily lives.”

Based on the reports in rising crime in the area Woolley said: “people are starting to feel unsafe”.

He stopped short of discussing how his recommendations to fix the issue will be funded but thought they shouldn’t cost much. He does plan to discuss the issue with CPS to ensure “they have appropriate resources” and mentioned specific “tactical things” he believes will turn the curve.

His 12-point plan includes:

— An expansion to the Downtown Outreach Addiction Partnership (DOAP) program
— Additional psychologists and psychiatrists that deal with mental health
— Development of comprehensive treatment strategies associated with the facility
— Review of the operation to address intake and outpatient optimization
— An increase in mobile AHS support staff
— The creation of a Crime Prevention through Environmental Design Improvement Fund resources for the associations and business improvement areas
— A review of needle box locations with a daily needle debris clean-up in the buffer zone
— Increased security and surveillance of Memorial Park
— Engagement with the supervised consumption site community liaison committee

“One of the reasons why it works in that location is we were delivering a number of wraparound supports,” Woolley added. “If the neighbours around this site continue to remain unsafe and we cannot address their concerns, I think we need to have a serious conversation about the location.”

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said a task force has been created to give them additional advice on what can be done to ensure safety in the area.

Additionally, she announced a $200,000 grant to Alpha House.

“To have a targeted DOAP (Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership) team assigned to the downtown core and specifically watching the perimeter of the Chumir and the surrounding neighbourhoods. So, we’ll be working to make sure that we can save lives within the building and of course increase safety outside the building as well,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman claimed over 800 lives have been saved at the safe drug consumption site.

While he applauded his efforts, Mayor Naheed Nenshi still supports the supervised consumption site and its current location.

“It’s important that this kind of facility be located in an area where there are wraparound services available,” Nenshi said. “That it’s easily accessible to people from across the community,” Nenshi said.

Although the council knew it was a residential community when they proposed the site, extensive consultations were conducted, and the community associations have been completely respectful of that fact.

Nenshi said it would be the big win would be to solve the problem and no city anywhere has to yet to achieve that goal.

“The answer is not close down the facility, the answer is not to move it somewhere, the answer is to manage the social disorder around the facility better and help mitigate the impact on those businesses and on those individuals and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Nenshi.

He’s hoping with added help, they can try to reverse some of those indicator numbers in the other direction. He says more people will die in the city from overdoses than car crashes.

The mayor says there is a risk of overreacting to two or three months of data and favours a long-term measured response is what’s needed.

When asked about Winnipeg Crime Stoppers move on Tuesday to double rewards for meth tips, Nenshi said it’s not an expensive ask and the police have yet to ask for additional resources.

Interim Police Chief Steve Barlow, who recently addressed the city’s meth crisis on Parliament Hill in a bid to find added support, reiterated previous comments about how they cannot arrest their way out of this problem.

According to the CPS, they’ve been working to address these numbers since August 2018.

“The behaviour around some of these individuals who consume meth is unpredictable,” he said. “We’re committed to keeping our community safe today and into the future while at the same time working with our partners on a long-term Mental Health and Addiction strategy.”

It’s the same message Barlow has been repeating for a few months now, he’s been calling for a multi-agency approach to the city’s crisis.

“I’m always going to look at anything that is going to support us and our partners to work on the community safety issue down in that area,” he said. “We need to be looking at our mental health and addiction treatments and work down that road and then continue to support what we are doing as a police service.”

According to Barlow the population of addicts is not limited to the buffer zone around the Chumir, Police are seeing similar issues in all districts across Calgary and it’s put a strain on resources.

“What it does mean is some of our lower-end calls, it’s going to take us longer to get there,” he said. “We will work with that, and we will look at innovative ways to try and solve those problems but that is what the public is going to see.”

It’s been a bit of a balancing act for the CPS executive. CPS has added bikes, patrols and covert resources but they’re still trying to not scare people away from the Chumir at the same time who need those resources.

“It’s been very hard, it’s actually been pretty hard on all of the officers. It’s probably one of the saddest pieces of police work that these officers and other emergency personnel are dealing with,” he said. “This isn’t a community that came into that area because they wanted to. Many of my officers are dealing with them every single day, they want to help them but a lot of times the help is not immediately there so a lot of times it has a damning effect on all of them.”

Woolley has asked for police to present to the committee at City Hall with their ideas in two weeks time.