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Boyle Street hosts second town hall about proposed south overdose prevention site

Boyle Street Community Services has recognized that there is a lot of confidence building to be done around Edmonton’s first potential overdose prevention services south of the river.

The Ritchie Community League Hall was packed for the second Town Hall on Boyle Street by 6pm on Monday.

Many of those present wore stickers in the form of stop signs that read, “Find a better place.”

Boyle Street Community Services (BSCS) brought in police, fire and health officials to help answer questions from community members. The agency also prepared a slideshow presentation with information on how the “microsite” would work at 81 Avenue and 101 Street.

The social authority originally planned to station its employees and officers from the police, fire brigade and health authorities in the room for individual questions. But early in the meeting, upon the announcement that there would be no room for questions, some in the crowd began to boo.

“No. no We want to be heard. We want to have a voice,” shouted one woman. Calls like “bait and switch” and “keep it public” followed.

“Guys, there are a lot of us in opposition here. Let’s be respectful,” said another participant.

Elsewhere in the evening, viewers accused the Boyle Street team of shutting down and disempowering the community.

“It was already a foregone conclusion when they decided to sign the lease without consulting the community,” Sherri McKnight told CTV News Edmonton after the meeting ended.

BSCS already has a lease on the 81 Avenue building but is in the process of obtaining proper licensing and illicit drug exemption to operate three overdose booths, which requires provincial government approval.

Responding to criticism that the public consultation did not begin broadly enough, Boyle Street’s Elliott Tanti conceded, “Ultimately, I am the leader of our organization’s engagement and that was a mistake.”

Finally, moderator Michael Walters – the former councilman – announced that questions could be asked privately in another room and the ground floor would be opened up for questions.

“We’re going to do our best,” he said as opponents started shouting again.

“You’re not doing very well,” a man in the crowd replied.

“They control the agenda 100 percent,” added one woman.

Walters replied: “We’ll be at eight before anyone asks a question.”


Outside the 81 Avenue building, BSCS will also provide housing, recovery and addiction services, and limited inpatient medical care.

As the organizers announced on Monday, the facility should be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. At least six workers – including a nurse, a social worker and a security guard – would be on site at all times. Social workers, mental health counselors, clean-up crews and cultural workers also visited the site throughout the week.

An estimated 15 to 30 people would be moved through the site every day.

“What does the monitoring schedule look like after people use it [drugs] to prevent psychosis on the street?” asked one parishioner.

“We ask them to stay at least 15 minutes – and they generally do,” Tanti replied. “It’s kind of a minimum requirement. In our experience, when running supervised consumption sites, people generally stay a lot longer, and in fact we actually have to ask people to leave so we can continue to guide people through the site because it’s a place they feel for sure.”

Some attendees at City Hall carried stickers that read “Find a better place” and a line through “Strathcona Health Hub on 81 Avenue” (CTV News Edmonton/Sean McClune).

He told the crowd that lack of food, sleep and a sense of security all contribute to frantic behavior after drug use and are all things the microsite would help its customers find.

“When you create a safe place that people can use, the behavior of people completely changes. We see it all the time in the people we serve,” Tanti said.

Another listener asked what options the community has if the plant has a negative impact on the neighborhood. According to Tanti, the facility would be subject to a six-month trial period when it opened. The license is renewed every year and can be revoked at any time, he said. BSCS would report regularly to the provincial government on its activities and impact on the community.

He also raised questions about the difference between the proposed facility and Edmonton’s other social services, what local crime data might be made available to the public, and what security measures would be put in place to protect customers of neighboring businesses.

“I think I’m having a bit of an identity crisis because I believe so much in harm reduction, but I also come as a parent,” admitted a registered nurse and mother of two young children. “I’m concerned about my usage behavior but very protective of my young children and also because I want to encourage positive engagement with people who are different from us and I wonder if this will hinder more than it will help. “

“Thanks. I can hear the tension in your voice,” Tanti noted, before explaining that BSCS plans to hire professional security guards and also offers special training.

“Maybe that means that at three o’clock, when we know a lot of parents are coming to pick up kids, those people are in the church?” he suggested.

One business owner asked, “If this continues, would you be willing to train my staff on de-escalation and naloxone?”

“Absolutely,” Tanti replied.

“Who are these people using the site? I want to hear a discussion about the humanity of these people, like what kind of demographics and situations they come from,” another person asked.

He continued, “The thing is, they’re already there. I don’t think there’s much acknowledgment in this discussion of the humanity of these people. Your life matters.”


The question and answer phase lasted more than 90 minutes.

“I think it was a very intense, if not lively and heated discussion,” commented Rob Bligh, one of the founding members of the group Scona Concerned Citizens.

“Some of the answers about how they would run the site, the purpose of the site, I think they were very good. They don’t address the question of why they should be placed in a place as vibrant and resilient as what they have chosen and the damage it will inflict.”

Rob Bligh speaks to CTV News Edmonton after City Hall Monday night (CTV News Edmonton/Sean McClune)

He asked Tanti this question during the public forum and was told that BSCS looked at overdose data, consulted with other service providers and spoke with land and property owners before choosing a site.

By Bligh’s reckoning, within a 500 meter radius of the address there are three day care centers with 220 licensed places for children, nine family activity centres, around 2,000 residents and 400 businesses.

“I’ve heard a lot from your description of why this is good for people with addictions and why it helps people who need that kind of help. What I didn’t hear there was consideration for the neighborhoods involved… That’s not part of your decision criteria,” Bligh told Tanti.

“No, it’s not,” Tanti replied.

“How could it not be?” Bligh asked.

“Because that’s where the services are needed,” Tanti told him.

After the meeting, a 20-year-old Ritchie resident and Bear Clan volunteer told CTV News Edmonton she worried the community didn’t understand how the overdose prevention website would benefit residents.

“I think there is a lot of misconception that the existence of this site will cause an influx of homeless people or criminals into our area, but the way I see it, there are already problems of homelessness and addiction and mental health issues in our community,” Carolyn Belanger said. “By making this site available to people, it will act as a hub for people to come and find safety and security and also connect to resources that they otherwise would not have access to.”

For the second day in a row, Ward Papastew Coun. Michael Janz declined to comment Tuesday on the debate at Ritchie and Strathcona, calling it a provincial matter.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi declined to comment specifically on the 81 Avenue site, but said harm reduction strategies and safe care are necessary to address the drug crisis.

“I hope Edmonton residents will take a compassionate approach to helping Edmonton residents be better,” he told reporters at City Hall.

With files by Sean McClune and Adam Lachacz of CTV News Edmonton

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