Cambridge needs to face its drug reality
Start owning your drug problem, Cambridge.
Those words may be harsh, but so are the results of a survey released Friday by the Region of Waterloo.
Local residents were asked to suggest places where addicts can consume illegal drugs with medical supervision, and the offer of help overcoming addiction.
In Cambridge, “the majority of suggestions were Cambridge Memorial Hospital,” said a report that regional councillors will discuss Tuesday.
One can understand why people in the downtown Galt area, which has a big problem with discarded needles and opioid overdose, want to push these troubles elsewhere.
But the hospital is a bad place to locate a supervised drug consumption site.
First, it’s too far away from Galt’s core area which is one of two “hot spots” for drug overdose. (The other is downtown Kitchener.)
“Often, people who struggle with addiction will not travel long distances to use substances because the power of the addiction is too strong,” says the report.
Drug users say they’d walk up to 10 minutes to use a site. The hospital is much further away than that from Galt’s core. That means there’s “a very big risk” that the province would deny funding to a consumption site there, said Karen Quigley-Hobbs, the region’s director of infectious diseases, dental and sexual health.
The other downside is that most hospitals feel too large and impersonal for a person using illegal drugs. Many have been removed from homes, jobs and relationships. They know they’re unwanted. They need a small, friendly facility.
Cambridge councillors say they’re all for a supervised drug consumption centre, just not in the core. They often argue that the downtowns are too small and vulnerable to sustain so much illegal activity.
In April, Cambridge city council passed an interim bylaw banning drug consumption sites from the core areas of Preston, Galt and Hespeler.
Even if the region goes ahead with plans for a consumption site in downtown, it still has to get consent from Cambridge council. That’s unlikely to happen, and certainly not before the October municipal election. There’s more.
Two weeks ago, in a surprise announcement, the city’s downtown Galt shelter for the homeless suggested it may be relocating out of the core.
The 78-bed Bridges shelter says it has outgrown its building on Simcoe Street. This has created “pressures on our organization that have been impacting on the quality of the supports we have been providing,” said board chair Julie Watts.
Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig said it will relocate outside the core.
Bridges is viewed as a lightning rod for concerns about drug addiction, unsafe discarded needles, loitering and so on.
It would be highly unusual for a shelter for homeless people to move out of the core of any city, where public transit and social services are.
Maybe someone thinks that if Bridges moves out of the core, the drug addicts will follow, and the drug consumption site can go somewhere else.
But you can’t get rid of a problem just by moving it around.