Susan Shaw’s commute to work through the downtown core is not the same as it used to be.For the longtime resident of the Palisades condo building, located across from the Sheldon M. Chumir Centre in the Beltline, what was once a pleasant stroll has become an obstacle course of discarded needles and drug users who congregate around the Safeworks supervised drug consumption site.Around the corner from her building, a handwritten sign stating “No druggy’s allowed to come” is taped to the front door of the Happy Together convenience store at 14th Avenue and 4th Street S.W.“If the police are supposed to be making this safer, I don’t feel safer,” said Shaw. “Probably in the last month, it’s worse than I’ve ever seen it.”
Susan Shaw says little has changed since police have increased patrols around the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre.
A January report showed that a 250-metre zone near the Safeworks inside the Chumir centre has become ground zero for drug, violent and property crimes in the downtown.Stats from 2018 showed a 276 per cent increase in drug-related calls to police in the zone, along with a 29 per cent rise in the overall number of calls for service compared with the three-year average.In response, Calgary police redeployed officers from other districts to hot spots in the city centre. The increased police presence has included more officer patrols, a mobile command vehicle presence and increased drug trafficking enforcement near the site.In March, city council voted to allocate $1 million toward initiatives aimed at improving safety near the city’s only safe consumption site, including increased security surveillance at the nearby Central Memorial Park and implementation of daily needle cleanups near the Chumir centre.Related
An April 16 Calgary Police Service report suggests those steps could be working, although crime and disorder near the centre continue to trend upward compared to recent years.The report, to be discussed at a Calgary police commission meeting later this month, has been circulated amongst stakeholders but not yet been released to the public. Calgary police declined to comment on the issue prior to its release.During the first three months of 2019, there were 660 calls for service from the public in the 250-metre area around the site, about 43 per cent more than the three-year average.But the report shows February and March saw the fewest calls for service (165 and 205, respectively) of any two months since the Safeworks site began operating 24/7 in April 2018, after 290 this past January.Police-generated calls for service — those initiated from proactive police work in the area — remain high, however. There were 484 such calls in the first quarter of 2019, more than triple the three-year average, which corresponds to the boost in policing resources.The final quarter of 2018, for comparison, saw 264 police-generated calls for service.Disorder events — which include drug, mental health, suspicious person, and unwanted guest-related calls — went up 28 per cent in the 250-metre zone during the first quarter of 2019, however, nearly half of those 272 incidents were recorded in January.Just 53 and 84 incidents were logged in February and March, respectively, coinciding with the added police presence near the safe consumption site, according to the report.
A woman sleeps on a bench in Central Memorial Park across from the Sheldon Chumir safe ingestion site in Calgary on Thursday May 9, 2019. Gavin Young/Postmedia
Gavin Young /
Shaw, though, says she hasn’t noticed anything different in the “clientele” surrounding her condo building.“The only real change or less activity that I came across was when it was really cold,” said Shaw, adding she’s come across drug users and drug “paraphernalia” in the alley behind her building.“As far as I’m concerned, when somebody’s in that state, they’re unpredictable. I don’t know what they’re capable of.”Living across the street from the Chumir, Neil Wagner said there’s been a spike in break-ins and car window smashings lately.“It’s very stressful compared to how it was prior,” Wagner said.“It doesn’t feel like it’s a safe neighbourhood anymore. We’d like to see things how they were before.”
Neil Wagner says he saw someone attempting to break into his parkade by cutting this chain link fence only minutes before this photo was taken.
Nic Sharkey, manager of The Printing House at 12th Avenue and 4th Street, said it’s common to hear intoxicated people screaming in the area or see them sitting on the steps outside his business.“You’ve got people just off their heads everywhere,” he said. “We do get quite a few people coming in, just not in their right mind I guess you can say.”But other business owners in the area have begun to feel a change, according to David Low, executive director of the Victoria Park BIA.“The police presence definitely has been noticed and appreciated,” Low said.“I was originally not really supportive of that, just because I think that police resources can be better used elsewhere. But I think given the results that we’ve seen with the police presence, I don’t see any other way around it for the foreseeable future other than to have them there.”There were seven violent incidents in the 250-metre zone surrounding the supervised consumption site from January to March, according to the Calgary police report. That figure represents two more than average for the first quarter of the year, but it is down from 22 that were reported in the fourth quarter of 2018.Meanwhile, March saw an average of 200 visits per day to Safeworks, nearly double that of one year prior, as drugs were consumed under the supervision of staff more than 4,400 times.
A sign in the window of the Happy Together Food Store at 4th Street and 14th Avenue S.W.
Safeworks staff responded to 53 overdoses that month, bringing the total to 954 since October 2017. The most frequently used drugs at the site in March were meth/crystal (1,812 times) and fentanyl (1,589 times).Nurses and paramedics are available to educate users on vein care, infection prevention and injection technique, according to Alberta Health Services. They also offer naloxone kits and overdose prevention education.Low said there have been fewer incidents of people wandering into businesses since police stepped up their presence in the area. Still, problems remain, including the presence of drug users in the nearby park.With AHS rules forbidding drugs to be sold or shared inside the building, Low said it’s led to an unwanted side-effect.“Where this causes problems is you have two users and they both want to go use safely, but they can’t split up their drugs inside the supervised consumption site, so they have to do it outside the site,” he said.“It’s a bit of a catch-22 for the users. It’s a little operational thing that people didn’t really think through.”
David Low, executive director of the Victoria Park Business Improvement Area.
Peter Oliver, president of Beltline Neighbourhoods Association, said it’s too early to jump to conclusions even though “things appear to be moving in the right direction.”“I think if you spend time around the site right now, you’ll notice there’s a lot more security,” he said. “There’s an absence of some of the loitering that you used to see. The area really feels different.”But he said it could take months for those efforts to fully take effect.“So far, I think there’s incremental improvement. These things just need to just take time to really see,” Oliver said. “It is really early to make any judgments. We’re just coming out of the winter and a lot of the initiatives that have been kicked off by the city and by the province are just getting underway.”In January, the province announced a $200,000 grant to the Calgary Alpha House Society to create a Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) team tasked with monitoring the downtown and the area around the Chumir.The group began operating “gradually” in the Beltline in March, but really kicked into gear last month, according to Alpha House outreach manager Adam Melnyk.Since then, a team has monitored the area every day from 4 p.m. to midnight.Through proactive patrols as well as referrals, the DOAP team transports vulnerable individuals back home or to a shelter, often after they’ve visited Safeworks, ensuring their safety and that they aren’t “spending longer time in the area” that can lead to potential disturbances, said Melnyk.
A woman huddles outside the Safeworks injection site in February.
The DOAP team also connects people to social services, detox treatment, and housing when possible, in addition to providing a needle debris pickup service.Melnyk said there’s already been a “measurable” impact. But supporting those affected by addiction issues while ensuring the community feels safe remains a challenge.“All these bits and pieces add up to, hopefully, a positive result,” he said. “I think the tough balance is that we’re a major city. What we’re seeing in a lot of our programs is that there’s addiction issues throughout the whole city and that’s what we saw with the whole opioid crisis.“How can we all work together to understand that, yes, it makes a lot of us feel uncomfortable or unsafe . . . while also providing support for these individuals to hopefully make a change in their life?”firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter.com/SammyHudes