Security around the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre has stepped up after numerous complaints from the community in Calgary on Tuesday January 29, 2019. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia
Desperate and angry residents who live near the city’s only safe drug-consumption site queued at city hall Wednesday to vent their concerns about rising violence and crime around the Safeworks facility at the Sheldon Chumir Centre.
“We’re basically at war right now,” said Murray Shuturma, president of the Park 300 condo. Shuturma said his building, which looks over Memorial Park across the street from the Chumir centre, is broken into on a daily basis. “Nobody is protecting us.
“We’ve had somebody chased with a shotgun in the building,” Shuturma said. “We have people shooting up (in) the vestibule of our building. People are afraid to come in and people are afraid to go out.”
Story after story at the emotionally charged meeting saw neighbours and business owners — some of them initially supportive of the supervised consumption site — describe increasing frustration with a perceived lack of concern from authorities.
Residents told stories about finding overdose victims in the street, aggressive encounters outside their homes and repeated thefts from vehicles and storage sheds. Several neighbours said their messages and phone calls to AHS have gone unanswered.
Will Lawrence, an owner of Shelf Life Books — kitty-corner from the Chumir — said his staff don’t feel equipped to handle some of the people and problems that arrive on their doorstep, including people coming in to use drugs in the store.
One incident required the replacement of a large double-pane window for $1,400: “They walked across the street, broke a window with a club that they took out of their jacket (and) grabbed a book and walked away,” Lawrence said, adding the store has since spent $7,000 on security cameras.
“This is no way to live your life,” said Coun. Evan Woolley, following an unsettling story about residents coming upon a woman in the throes of a psychotic episode in a blood-stained condo stairwell. “This is nerve-racking stuff.”
Woolley, who is councillor for the area, said a sharp increase in meth use across the city has contributed to a spike in violent crime in the area.
A January police report showed that within a 250-metre zone of the Chumir, there has been a 276 per cent increase in drug-related calls to police. Violence in the area is up nearly 50 per cent, while vehicle crime has increased 63 per cent.
The committee also heard from people working on all sides of the drug crisis, including a panel of health officials and law enforcement.
AHS provided updated statistics pointing out that there have been 850 overdose reversals since the supervised consumption site opened in 2017.
One woman, who previously used meth and now works as a peer support worker at the Chumir, criticized the city for not including someone with lived experience of drug addiction on the panel.
Jessica McEachern slammed one councillor for describing drug dealers as “scumbags” and suggested a lot of criminal activity can be attributed to the fact there isn’t a reliable, safe supply of drugs available.
“It’s $114,000 to put a person in jail for a year. If you were to put just a third of that into support for a person, you would never see that person in trouble again,” McEachern said.
Committee members heard a number of potential suggestions to mitigate the effects of the crisis, from creative strategies to incentivize needle and drug debris cleanup, to requests to create “lockers” to allow homeless people a place to keep their belongings safe.
At least one councillor was not convinced.
Coun. Sean Chu said he doesn’t agree that drug use should be equated with disease, calling it “a choice” and calling for increased emphasis on individual responsibility.
“Who would love to have this shooting gallery move to your neighbourhood? Anybody? Raise your hand,” said Chu.
A furious Woolley — who lost his own brother to an accidental overdose in 2018 — slapped down his colleague: “I think you should be ashamed of some of the things that come out of your mouth,” he said.
Details presented at Wednesday’s hearing will be brought forward to the next council meeting.
The Feb. 25 meeting will see elected officials vote on a 12-point proposal to implement short-term measures to address rising crime and social disorder around the Chumir.