By a vote of 10-1, city council confirmed it will have the Mayor’s office write a letter of support for four supervised injection sites in the inner core. The letter is one of many steps needed to clear the way for the safe injection sites at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, the Boyle McCauley Health Centre, the George Spady Centre and Boyle Street Community Services.
“It’s just simply a letter of opinion,” Mayor Don Iveson said following the special council meeting Tuesday. “The decision is federal. The funding decision is provincial.”
The next step for city council will be debate on a motion introduced by the mayor, calling for a coordinated wellness strategy for the inner city.
“There was a motion for the city to continue to be involved in monitoring the effectiveness of these sites, making sure that the practical experience matches all of the evidence that suggests that they should reduce crime, social disorder, and infection rates and overdoses. So we’ll continue to monitor. We’ll continue to be actively involved.”
The public hearing heard all sorts of opposition to the plan from McCauley and Central McDougall residents. However Elaine Hyshka, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta School of Public Health said work will be done to allay their worst fears.
“I think as we’ve always responded with data and evidence,” Hyshka told reporters. “We’ll be again monitoring the services and we’ll be reporting on the outputs of them and we’ll be looking at the impacts on the community. We have applied for funding to do that, and so, pending that funding, we’ll have more to share about that plan.”
Hyshka also distanced the Edmonton proposal from the Insight program run on Vancouver’s lower east side that has gained national attention because of its problems. “This is very different than Insight. This is an embedded model. We’re not proposing to build any new bricks and mortar, no store fronts. All we’re doing is adding one additional service to existing agencies that are already serving this population.”
Although at some point, Iveson sees more coordination between the agencies that are involved, as well as the provincial ministries that will have a stake in driving costs down for health care and social disorder.
“We’ve heard the need for that. We have so many different players, from police, to Alberta Health Services, to agencies who all have a piece of this, but there isn’t a coherent strategy and I think that gap needs to be filled. I think the city can help fill it, not single handedly.”
Eventually the three locations aside from the hospital will need upgraded facilities. Boyle Street Community Services has already begun its lobbying for a new location further away from Rogers Place, and has been in talks with the provincial government.
“It’s way too soon to say what would be the right building or site,” Iveson said. “I wouldn’t rule out the Remand Centre as a possibility but it’s not presumed that’s the only option. I think purpose built might make sense. There might be interim steps towards a longer term solution.”
The letter will go to Health Canada. A similar letter will be written by Police Chief Rod Knecht. Hyshka said other documentation in the hundreds of pages will also be part of the submission.
Councilor Tony Caterina, citing a high concentration of the three locations, was the only one to vote against the idea of writing a letter. Councilor Bev Esslinger and Councilor Mike Nickel were not at the meeting.