My response: “Closing SCS is key to a healthier community”

Closing the SCS will worsen the situation. And then people will finally realize how much of a difference the SCS is actually making.

The Lethbridge Herald is on a roll this month with all the roasts and letters they’re publishing from people opposed to the local supervised consumption site. I already addressed this week’s roasts, but I thought I’d take a stab at some of the letters.

I wrote my response to the first letter and the second letter earlier this week. Below is my response to the third, which you can read here.

Since the opening of the SCS, the crime rate in Lethbridge is escalating drastically. Utilizing Statistics Canada, Lethbridge is now ranked the 15th most dangerous place nationally, which is increased from 19th last year.

Lethbridge’s crime rate has been increasing since 2014, so it’s misleading to say it’s “escalated drastically” since the SCS opened, which implies that the SCS caused the increase in crime.

In 2014, the CSI in Lethbridge increased by 24.35%. In no year since then has crime increased that much, not even close. The next highest increase was in 2017, and it was 15.94%. Even if you look at the CSI itself—and not its rate of increase—the 2018 CSI was lower than it was in 1998 and 1999. So, while crime did increase the year the SCS opened, it didn’t “escalate” as “dramatically” as it did in the year before, let alone in 2017.

Yes, we increased in the Maclean’s rankings from 19th in 2017 to 15th in 2018. But we also increased from 26th place in 2016 to 19th place in 2017. And a jump from 26th to 19th seems much larger than from 19th to 15th. And if we’re going to blame the SCS for the smaller jump in rankings, what are we going to blame for the much larger jump that occurred before the SCS opened?

My sons have found bullets in the meighbouring school yard. Children have been lured by strangers, and sustained needle-prick injuries from used needles in school grounds and parks. Criminals have broken into residences and businesses. There has been theft of property, car thefts, assaults with weapons. Drug paraphernalia has been found outside of health-care facilities housing seniors, the vulnerable sector. Children and seniors are being subjected to drug users “high” on the streets. Three drug houses have been busted in my neighbourhood. Three. I do not understand how you view this as a “healthier community.”

All of this makes sense if crime has gone up. But none of this proves the implied claim that crime is up because of the SCS.

The community is healthier because fewer people are dying. The community is healthier because fewer people are using drugs in public. The community is healthier because the risk is lower of contracting a disease from a discarded needle.

Even so, as I said, this seems irrelevant to the existence of the SCS, unless you can somehow prove that the SCS increases crime. And you haven’t done that.

Since when has it become morally or ethically acceptable for citizens to be exposed to this unacceptable behaviour, and be victimized by drug-related crimes that we are enabling with an ironically “supervised consumption site” which provides “party packs” of needles to promote the use of illegal street drugs?

It’s not acceptable for citizens to be exposed to the behaviours you listed. Which is why it’s a good thing that the supervised consumption site exists: it reduces some of those public behaviours.

The supervised consumption site does not enable crime, nor does it promote drug usage. People who come to the SCS to consume drugs are already addicted. They’re already buying and using drugs. The SCS didn’t convince them to start. “Party packs” contain a single needle (among other items), and the needle is the cheap part of consuming drugs. Providing free needles doesn’t get someone started on drugs.

It was noted in 2019 the provincial government committed to $140 million towards the drug crisis. Let’s not forget about the cost of health-care dollars to staff the SCS, purchase of needles, the cost of multiple quantities of naloxone, and emergency services. $140 million would be much better utilized for health-care initiatives and increasing hospital beds, health-care services, specialized services, and “party packs” of insulin needles for diabetics who cannot afford their supplies, thus working “collaboratively with valued community partners towards a healthier community.”

This isn’t a contest. It doesn’t need to be that we either fund the SCS or we fund treatment services. We can do both. Nor do we need to pit diabetic people against people who use drugs. We can provide needles to both.

Senior citizens of this community have contributed throughout their lives towards a vibrant city. Closing the SCS will promote a “healthier community” and a sense of well-being for many citizens.

No, it won’t. Closing the SCS will make things worse. Public drug usage will increase. Fatal overdoses will increase. Demand on first responders will increase. Demand on our emergency room will increase.

I realize that to some people, the situation in Lethbridge seems dire. And this perception didn’t appear until the SCS opened, so the two seem connected, despite the fact that both crime and drug usage had been increasing since at least 2014. However, as I said, closing the SCS will worsen the situation. And then these same people will finally realize how much of a difference the SCS is actually making.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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