Holder balks at su­per­vised drug site

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock) - - NEWS - ME­GAN STACEY — The Lon­don Free Press

Lon­don’s new mayor, a vo­cal backer of the con­tro­ver­sial su­per­vised drug use sites touted as one solution to the city’s drug cri­sis, may be back­ing off his sup­port of one pro­posed per­ma­nent site. Of the two lo­ca­tions pitched for su­per­vised sites, Mayor Ed Holder was hes­i­tant in a Free Press in­ter­view to em­brace one slated for a pub­lic hous­ing build­ing in the SoHo, south of Horton Street, neigh­bour­hood at 241 Sim­coe St.

Another is pitched for a York Street site that now houses a mu­sic store, which city coun­cil will be asked later this month to re­zone to per­mit the drug-use site.

“Does it make sense to have one, (at) Bel­lone’s (John Bel­lone Mu­si­cal In­stru­ments), and maybe a sec­ond mo­bile site? I’m not so sure it’s Sim­coe Street, but I think that’s a dis­cus­sion we have to have,” Holder said dur­ing an in­ter­view on his first of­fi­cial day on the job.

He’s not rev­ers­ing his ear­lier sup­port for su­per­vised sites in gen­eral, though, de­scrib­ing them as “so im­por­tant for Lon­don’s sake.” Peo­ple us­ing the sites can take drugs un­der med­i­cal su­per­vi­sion, re­ceive treat­ment for any over­doses and con­nect with sup­port ser­vices such as re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. A tem­po­rary site at 186 King St. has had more than 10,000 vis­its since it opened in Fe­bru­ary. Tues­day, a day af­ter the ini­tial in­ter­view, Holder clar­i­fied his stance, say­ing coun­cil should deal with the 446 York St. site – across from the Men’s Mis­sion – be­fore de­bat­ing a sec­ond lo­ca­tion.

“As much as I have my own views about where sites should be, more im­por­tantly, let’s get the first one done and done right,” he said. “Re­gard­less of the (sec­ond) site, we need to have more dis­cus­sion, pe­riod.”

Chris Mackie, med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health with the Mid­dle­sex-Lon­don Health Unit, said he still be­lieves the best ap­proach is two per­ma­nent sites and one mo­bile unit.

But he rec­og­nizes coun­cil’s role in mak­ing the ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion on re­zon­ing.

“The elected of­fi­cials are cru­cial ar­biters of com­mu­nity val­ues. Their in­put is re­ally im­por­tant,” he said. “Con­trol of these projects is not en­tirely in our hands. We will deal with the hand we are dealt. Our pref­er­ence, and my be­lief, is that we need two fixed sites on ei­ther side of down­town.”

The sites pro­posed for 241 Sim­coe St. and 446 York St., are smack in the mid­dle of the ar­eas that see high rates of pub­lic drug in­jec­tions and nee­dle waste, ac­cord­ing to health unit sta­tis­tics.

Arielle Kayabaga, the new coun­cil­lor who rep­re­sents the SoHo neigh­bour­hood, said she wants more in­for­ma­tion about the Sim­coe Street site, but be­lieves per­ma­nent su­per­vised sites – rather than a mo­bile ser­vice – are the way to go. “I know it is a lit­tle bit con­tro­ver­sial, be­cause it is hous­ing, and there are lot of con­cerns about the safety of the peo­ple there. Those are the things I want to look into more, but there is a need in our com­mu­nity, and we should def­i­nitely be re­spond­ing to the need with a per­ma­nent site,” she said.

Pressed on his hes­i­ta­tion for the Sim­coe Street site, where a ground­floor su­per­vised site is pro­posed in the apart­ment tower owned by the Lon­don and Mid­dle­sex Hous­ing Corp., Holder em­pha­sized his com­mit­ment to at least one per­ma­nent site.

“We will have safe con­sump­tion sites in Lon­don, cer­tainly one,” he said. “It is so im­por­tant, we’ve got to find a way to do it.”

Re­gional HIV/AIDS Con­nec­tion, the agency run­ning the tem­po­rary over­dose pre­ven­tion site on King Street, em­pha­sizes the in­tense “wrap­around” so­cial ser­vices that clients will be able to ac­cess at the per­ma­nent lo­ca­tions.

“What we do know about 241 Sim­coe St. is that there is a lot of pub­lic in­jec­tion, in­ject­ing in the stair­well,” said Brian Lester, head of Re­gional HIV/AIDS Con­nec­tion. “There are other folks who have said, ‘Is this the best lo­ca­tion?’ I think those are fair ques­tions that we’ll work hard to sat­isfy and give a re­sponse to let the pub­lic and con­cerned cit­i­zens know how we’re go­ing to ef­fec­tively de­liver the ser­vice in both of those neigh­bour­hoods.”

Lester said he’s con­fi­dent the mayor will keep an open mind and lis­ten to a “range of stake­hold­ers,“which Holder has pledged to do by keep­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion open with the health unit and cit­i­zens.

One ma­jor ques­tion raised about both pro­posed sites is safety in the area. Se­cu­rity staff will be on hand and the prop­erty reg­u­larly “swept” for any dis­carded nee­dles. It’s ex­pected most spent nee­dles will be dis­posed of in­side the sites, where drug users can ac­cess clean equip­ment and safe space.

“The Mid­dle­sex-Lon­don Health Unit is try­ing to lis­ten to what peo­ple are say­ing and try­ing to ad­dress those con­cerns of loi­ter­ing, drug deal­ing around the area, nee­dles, so I think it’s im­por­tant, from my stand­point, that we re­ally delve into the plans for their ad­dress­ing of those is­sues,” Coun. Steve Lehman, another coun­cil new­comer and down­town busi­ness owner, said.

The ap­pli­ca­tion for a zon­ing change to al­low a su­per­vised site – now of­fi­cially called su­per­vised con­sump­tion and treat­ment ser­vices by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment – at 446 York St., across from the Men’s Mis­sion, will go to coun­cil’s plan­ning com­mit­tee next Mon­day. Coun­cil is ex­pected to make a fi­nal de­ci­sion Dec. 18.

A re­zon­ing ap­pli­ca­tion has not yet been sub­mit­ted for the site at 241 Sim­coe St., Mackie con­firmed.

DEREK RUTTAN/POST­MEDIA NEWS

Brian Lester is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Re­gional HIV/AIDS Con­nec­tion where a tem­po­rary safe in­jec­tion site is op­er­at­ing in Lon­don.

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