The Lethbridge SCS is a very busy place, in fact a lot busier than anyone ever predicted as we approach one year since the facility opened its doors.
At the end of February, it'll mark the one year anniversary of the opening of Lethbridge's Supervised Consumption Site (SCS).
The building and its associated clientele on 2nd Avenue South has been a polarizing issue in the community. With a mandate from Alberta Health to be a harm reduction facility, the SCS has suffered because of an absence of support services in the health care continuum, such as intox, detox, treatment and housing.
It's easy to go after the negatives brought on by the Supervised Consumption Site, these are well documented.
Our radio station spoke with the Executive Director of ARCHES, Stacey Bourque who says from February 28, 2018 (when the doors opened) to January 31, 2019 they have seen 148,541 visits, averaging a staggering 667 per day. Compared to the Sheldon Chumir Centre in Calgary at their one year mark, that facility had 52,000 visits. Bourque adds the Lethbridge SCS has responded to 1,476 overdoses, saving 322 lives with EMS being called in 19% of the time, compared to the 100% of the time local paramedics have dealt with overdoses in the past.
As for the goals for the facility, it's to reduce public drug consumption and needle debris, increase connectivity to support services whether it be treatment or detox, and to increase public safety. Bourque says the community is in dire need of those previously mentioned support services as it's a real struggle when there are so many gaps for so many people who want and need them.
Bourque spoke to some of the strategies that have been put in place to mitigate some of the challenges the community faces. They set up 24 hour security, the Community Outreach Addictions Program, and the needle sweep programs. Bourque believes the Downtown Watch program will be of help to both the neighbourhood and SCS clientele.
As for the future, there are no thoughts around offering a mobile unit similar to what is happening in Kelowna, BC. Bourque says the greatest needs in Lethbridge right now are an intox facility as well as additional detox beds, greater access to treatment, plus transitional and supportive housing.
The Alberta government did commit serious money at the end of 2018 for those support services in Lethbridge, however those are still 18 months to two years out.
The Lethbridge SCS is by far the most heavily-used facility of its kind in Canada.
Bourque, in summarizing the past year, says no one could have ever predicted the uptake to a service like the SCS and the size of the problem here. However Bourque remains focused on the positives that the Supervised Consumption Site has brought into the community.