Calgary police are warning that the crime rate has shot up in recent months around the city’s only supervised drug-use site as Alberta has faced a growing opioid crisis and a surge in crystal meth use.
Hours after the police report was released on Tuesday, Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said her office was committing $200,000 to fund a community team to tackle mounting disorder and reports of violence in Calgary’s trendy Beltline neighbourhood.
There was a 29-per-cent increase in calls for service within 250-metres of the city’s supervised drug-use site after it opened permanently at the start of 2018, according to Calgary police.
“It’s really important that people feel safe in their community and that means ensuring that we are doing important health-care work inside the building and also increasing services in and around the neighbourhood,” Ms. Hoffman told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.
She said that the province has already created a task force with police, community agencies and locals to help understand the situation. The new grant from her office will help clean up needles in the neighbourhood and get drug users the resources they need.
“In the last couple of months, we’ve seen a real significant rise in social disorder, in crime,” said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. According to the mayor, the city has been monitoring the area around the supervised drug-use site since it first opened to ensure there has been no spike in crime. The situation has only deteriorated in recent months, he said.
“The answer is not close down the facility, the answer is not move it somewhere; the answer is manage the social disorder around the facility better and help mitigate the impact on those businesses and those individuals,” Mr. Nenshi said.
Immediately around the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre, where the supervised drug-use site is located, police reported a 276-per-cent rise in drug-related calls compared to a three-year average, as well as a 47-per-cent increase in violence and a 45-per-cent jump in breaking and entering. Calls for service across Calgary were up 4 per cent over the same period.
Calgary police still support the site, according to the report from the force. Mr. Nenshi said that with Calgarians now more likely to die of a drug overdose than from a traffic accident, the city needs to do more to help people struggling with overdoses.
Dr. Nick Etches, Alberta Health Services’ medical officer for the Calgary zone, said that people should not ignore the more than 800 lives that were saved at the city’s supervised drug-use site in 2018.
“We have a responsibility with the community to address this,” Dr. Etches said. “We’re in the midst of an extraordinary drug crisis in Alberta and in Calgary specifically. I think it’s important that we address the numbers that are here. They are telling us that there is an issue that needs to be addressed.”
Additional security staff has been added to the area around the site, according to Dr. Etches. He also said local residents have been given a number to call for assistance with discarded needles.
According to the Calgary police, 54,473 visits were recorded at the site from Oct. 30, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2018. While opioids are used there, the most common drug reported during visits is crystal meth.