In 2018 a man walked into the Beakerhead office on 4th street close to Safeworks. He was clearly in distress needing to use. I watched my co-workers freeze and one picked up the phone to call the police. We were two blocks away from the Chumir. I stood up and introduced myself, asked his name, and offered to walk him down to the site. My friend and co-worker joined me as we walked and made small talk about the weather.
The province is set to close Safeworks, the Safe Consumption Site at the Sheldon Chumir with plans to reallocate to 'partner organizations' (likely shelters) according to this recent article. I worry about the strain on social agencies to provide increased care and service for vulnerable populations. I see the continued stigma and assumptions made about users.
Access to a site assumes you are proximal or have means to use transportation to arrive. It also assumes the site will feel safe, welcoming, and inclusive. We have users of all genders, ethnicities, and span socio-economic statuses who need a site. Have these factors been considered when choosing new locations?
First - locations should have been chosen in partnership with the City of Calgary. I am not certain this is the case.
Second - by moving the consumption sites to shelter or social agency sites, we are stigmatizing who uses and casting a broad assumption that all users are homeless or living in the shelter system. We know this isn't the case.
I will say that I support having locations within social service agencies IF there are other sites as well and IF those sites are staffed (funded) by the province and the expectation of staffing does not suddenly become part of the agency's operating budget without funding from the Province.
Third - the recognition that need for sites does not exist solely in the beltline or downtown core; drug use is not a geographic phenomenon.
The need for MORE sites exists. We see this in the number of users at the Chumir site, and in the spillover for the users who are unable to access the site. I have spoken with communities and Calgary Police who see users at sites such as transit stations - because they are monitored with cameras and help buttons.
There isn't one answer to solving the challenges associated with drug use. I believe we need a comprehensive approach that is supported by the Province and the City which support both users and communities. We need funding for mental health care, housing, safe consumption sites, addictions treatment, and funding for social service agencies as early interveners. We need training for our first responders, bylaw and transit officers, and community leaders to be part of the solution in communities.
Mostly we need to talk about users as people - humans with complex emotions, needs, and histories. We need to see that we are all part of the problem when we stigmatize users but can also be part of the solution when we see users as humans who are for their own reasons, in a position where drug use is part of their life. Is this easy, not always. I believe we need to keep talking about it, openly and candidly. I am committed to these conversations to support all Calgarians regardless of the situation they find themselves in.
I've put out three simple surveys in the last few weeks to ask you about how you're interacting with their city. From teen girls, to kids, to adults. I am curious about what is good, and what can be improved in your eyes.
Most importantly, the overall sense I got from reading your answers, was that being in community was important to you including the amazing connections you have to your neighbours.
You focused on the elements you interact with most in active modes. No one flagged roads as the thing they want to keep, or a specific built form of houses. To me, this signals, what we value in our neighbourhoods, what I feel is so key to humanity, places to be around others and build relationships.
Kids identified that the number one thing that makes them feel safe in their community is knowing their neighbours. When we have streets, sidewalks, and parks that help us know each other, we support even our youngest residents in their participation in community. Their fears: coyotes (totally valid).
Teen girls had this to say about their interactions in their neighbourhoods...
What does this all this mean as I ask to be your representative at city hall? It means that I recognize the amenities of neighbourhoods which you value, and I value them too. I want to ensure we continue to support the amenities which foster relationships (like community halls and rec centres), the local economy (supporting residential adjacent businesses), and active living (ensuring quality pathways and park spaces).
Earlier this year, I made a birthday wish list for Calgary for my 40th. There is lots of overlap between the keep/add lists.
It's not to late to give your answers. Here are the links to the original blogs/surveys:
The Kids Point of View (best for kids in elementary)
Girls in the City
Changing Communities - What do you want to see?
Here's hoping I will see you out on the pathways!
Kids in the City
We know kids have a much different point of view of moving around their neighbourhoods than adults do.
Often when we think about city planning, programming, and design, we have conversations exclusively among adults for spaces that affect children. As a parent myself with children in this age bracket, I know they have strong opinions and a sense of what makes their neighbourhoods great. That's right - they have two neighbourhoods as their dad and myself live in different communities. They interact differently based on proximity to parks and greenspaces, have different routes to these areas, and the amenities differ.
My ask - if you have a K-6 child in your house, have them complete one or both of these activities.
1. A short survey designed with kids in mind.
2. Save and print the following images (designed for standard paper). Take a photo and share on social (tag me @kourtbranagan) or email me the photo at email@example.com
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.