Boyle Street supervised drug-use site to stay closed, George Spady site to keep expanded hours

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A supervised consumption site in Edmonton’s downtown will discontinue operations at month’s end, leaving harm reduction advocates worried for the well-being of former clients.

Boyle Street Community Services spokesman Elliott Tanti said the supervised drug-use site has been closed since the fall when the service was redirected to the Tipinawâw shelter at the downtown Edmonton Convention Centre.

But when the shelter closes April 30, the consumption site won’t return to Boyle Street.

Instead, operations at the George Spady Centre across the street have been extended to 24-7 since the fall. The Spady used to run 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. when the Boyle Street site was in operation.

The two sites opened in March 2018 to jointly provide 24-7 access.

A third site at the Boyle McCauley Health Centre opened in November 2018.

Justin Marshall, press secretary to Alberta’s associate minister of mental health and addictions, said there is no reduction in funding for supervised consumption services in the Edmonton Zone despite the changes.

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“The previous government decided to place three consumption sites in Chinatown, within very close proximity to other sites,” said Marshall in a statement. “The government is engaged with the Boyle Street society about potentially operating overdose prevention services in an under-serviced area of Edmonton.”

72 Edmonton opioid deaths in two months

But Angela Welz, the Alberta regional director for Moms Stop The Harm, said this could negatively impact former clients of the Boyle Street site.

“It’s disappointing because you are taking away something clients are comfortable with and asking them to go elsewhere,” said Welz. “Change for many of these marginalized people is very difficult, so it’s worrisome.”

She called the change in direction “sheer cruelty” as it could lead to additional overdose deaths, as numbers are already hitting record-high levels in the city.

In the first two months of 2021, 72 people died in Edmonton from opioid overdoses — representing a 157 per cent increase from January and February in 2020. The current rate of drug poisoning deaths in Edmonton sits at 41.1 per 100,000 people in 2021, exceeding the provincial rate of 30.3.

“I don’t know what else we can say as advocates and families who have lost a loved one to overdose and to the drug toxicity issues,” said Welz. “This is just another stab in the heart.”

Welz said the UCP isn’t listening to pleas from families who have lost loved ones to overdoses and calls from frontline workers when it come to tackling the overdose crisis.

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She said government should be bolstering harm reduction services and exploring safe supply programs.

“This is a very big blow to Edmonton,” said Welz. “It’s just very, very unfortunate because it is so important for that community hub in that neighbourhood. We need more supervised consumption sites, not less.”

Tanti said he isn’t certain there won’t be an impact with one less site but said “a lot has been done to mitigate the impact” as there is still 24-7 care.

He confirmed Boyle Street is working closely with the government to explore the potential for additional overdose prevention sites in parts of the city where they are needed.

— With files from Alanna Smith

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