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Northreach Society cautiously optimistic about consumption site review

Officials at the Northreach Society are cautiously optimistic about a government ordered supervised consumption site review.

Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan announced Monday that the eight-member review panel, led by former Edmonton Police Chief Rob Knecht, will focus on the socio-economic impacts supervised consumption sites have on communities.

The scope of the review will include things like crime rates, needle debris, residential property values, and proposals for solutions to address the impacts of the sites.

“We are interested to see what the community has to say in regards to needle debris and social disorder. It may be supervised consumption services related or it might be just program services and poverty-related in general,” says Northreach Society Executive Director Melissa Byers.

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Luan, who has spoken out against the reliance on safe consumption sites as the solution to tackling the ongoing opioid addiction crisis in the province, said he was indeed impressed while visiting the SCS on a recent trip to Grande Prairie.

When asked why the review could potentially be overlooking the merits of consumption sites, Luan said the initial research done by the previous government tackled that in-depth and will be used in any final decision.

Byers said the leg work done by not only the previous government but social programs and organizations like Northreach should certainly not be overlooked.

“We did look at how many service users we had in that area. The St. Lawrence Centre was located there at the time, plus the shelter already. We figured that would be the best place to lessen the impact on the community,” she said.

“I think the City of Grande Prairie has generally tended to support us, aside from the public opposition to us moving. Which was actually lessened once people understood about what we do and who we are,” she added.

Byers, however, doesn’t want the public consultation portion of it to come down to an ideological divide.

“I’d be interested to see if the government is going to take a certain radius around our site and take information specifically from those individuals versus from an entire community who would not necessarily be impacted by a supervised consumption site as it is a small contained site.”

The committee will look to hear from citizens, businesses and supervised consumption site operators over a three week period in September.

The findings of the review are expected to be completed and made public by the end of the year.

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