People in recovery clean Beltline, raise concerns over soon-to-be-closed Calgary consumption site

By Carolyn Kury de Castillo  Global News

A group of volunteers took to the streets of Calgary’s Beltline community on Saturday to clean the area and offer outreach services.

Jessica Kennedy has been sober for nearly two years. The Calgary woman’s battle with alcohol addiction lead her to volunteer with the community-led outreach project.

“It affects everybody. This isn’t an addict problem. This is a Calgary problem. I think that, especially with them getting rid of the (Sheldon Chumir) consumption site, that isn’t the answer. Doing stuff like this is going to be the answer. Reaching out to people and talking to people,” Kennedy said.

The outreach and neighbourhood cleanup project was organized by Alberta Addicts Who Educate and Advocate Responsibly, a non-profit comprised of people with a history of drug use.

Volunteers handed out basic-need supplies and connected with Calgary’s most vulnerable, getting people connected with programs designed to help those struggling with addictions.

“We are trying to get the education out there around what harm reduction services are,” said AAWEAR operations manager Kathleen Larose.

The group is in support of creating more supervised consumption sites in Calgary. Last month, the province announced the Sheldon Chumir supervised consumption site would be closing and two other sites will open. Larose supports the idea of more locations but thinks it’s a mistake to close the Sheldon Chumir site.

“People have been goal setting with the people working at the Sheldon Chumir site, so it’s like cutting the umbilical cord to a service that was supporting people for so many years,” Larose said.

“That relationship piece is the biggest thing that’s problematic for me personally with that closure, and I worry about what’s going to happen.”

According to the province, the plan is to “add supervised injection capabilities at two existing partner organization sites that already serve individuals suffering from addiction.”

“While we cannot announce those locations quite yet, we can confirm that they will be situated much closer to those who need such services. It frankly made little sense for those needing such facilities to need to walk up to 30 minutes one way to the Beltline to get the services they require,” said Justin Marshall, press secretary for the associate minister of mental health and addictions, in a statement to Global News on May 28.

“We will hope to have more to say in the future, but rest assured that the Chumir site will not close until the new facilities are operational.”

Also part of the volunteer efforts on Saturday was Each + Every, a group representing businesses in support of harm reduction.

The group’s co-founder is hoping to change the way the business community has addressed addictions in the past.

“We are really just trying to rewrite that script around how businesses can actually, instead of being fearful, reach out and connect with people like AAWEAR and show your allyship, carry naloxone on site and get to know people in your neighbourhood, get to know them by name,” said Each+ Every co-founder Euan Thomson.

As for Kennedy, she hopes more people join in outreach projects like the one held on Saturday.

“No one wants to be alone. People walk by you and they don’t even look you in the eyes, so when you walk by someone, look at them. Because they matter. We all matter,” Kennedy said.