Supervised injection sites part of the solution, but better community engagement needed

This week, City Council voted in favour of opening a set of medically supervised injection sites. As a public health professional, I support this decision. Evidence shows supervised injection sites reduce the harms associated with drug use for both individuals and communities. However, I am concerned that this decision-making process is another example of how Edmonton’s community engagement system needs improvement.

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Supervised injection sites are a polarizing issue, so it’s no surprise that this decision has evoked strong feelings. The City announced the proposed locations of the four sites in February  and launched a formal community engagement process that included an online survey, door-knocking, and open houses.

CitizenRally-May6th-KerenTang.jpgBut frustration about the process persists within the downtown neighbourhoods that will host these sites. Some community groups have been unsatisfied with how the City responded to questions about safety and neighbourhood ghettoization. Leaders in Chinatown, for example, have concerns about how the City communicated information to their organizations. Many residents feel ignored by their municipal government, and regardless of the issue, that is a problem.

I’m a public health advocate experienced in participatory approaches in community engagement, and I have been following this issue closely. I have talked to public health professionals, community leaders, and members of the Chinatown community, who felt they were not included in the process. I have heard multiple perspectives, and it is clear to me that there has been a gap in engagement and communication from the City.

Edmonton, like so many major cities, has a drug problem. To tackle it effectively, we need to strengthen prevention, harm reduction, and treatment services. But neglecting community engagement may compromise the success of these efforts. In this instance, English-language communications may not have been inclusive for members of the Chinatown community.

If elected to City Council, I will push to improve the engagement process and continue to work closely with citizens and experts to help us find evidence-informed solutions that align with the needs of Edmontonians.