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SafePoint to pause services amid provincial review of CTS sites

In a move described as "difficult" but "necessary," the Windsor Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) board has unanimously voted to pause operations at the SafePoint consumption and treatment services site after the holidays. 

The break in services will be in effect as of Jan. 1, 2024, following the decision made during a board of health meeting on Nov. 20.

"It was an extremely difficult decision of the board, especially knowing that numbers were higher than the month prior, usage was going up, we were helping people ... and that the evidence of the site being open for six months has been overwhelmingly positive," said board chair Fabio Costante.

The Ontario government put the opening of CTS sites on hold after a 44-year-old woman was struck and killed by a stray bullet near a site in Toronto.

The province has paused all decisions on funding until a review is complete.

"This unpredictable disruption leaves the health unit in a position where it would be required to continue to support the site through its base budget by reducing some of the same critical public health programs and services which kept us all saved through a generational pandemic or to drastically increase our asking municipalities to support the site which obligates municipal taxpayers to take on a funding model which is established to be squarely within the purview of the province," Costante added.

Officials with SafePoint said 182 unique visitors have walked through the doors 859 times since the site opened on Apr. 26.

As the months have progressed, the number of visits to SafePoint have increased as well — going from 64 in May to 258 during the month of October, according to WECHU data.

A letter was issued by the WECHU to the provincial government "about a month or two ago" seeking clarification on timelines regarding when CTS application decisions may resume, the health unit said, but no response was given.

"We are hopeful that the province investigation is quicker rather than a lengthy process but we need to make sure that we respect the fact that they need to do their due diligence as well," said WECHU CEO Ken Blanchette. 

"We will continue to have conversations with the Ministry of Health. Our hope is that we have some form of reopening ... because I think the numbers speak for themselves in the last six months."

For Pozitive Pathways executive director Michael Brennan, there is no reason for provincial approval of SafePoint and similar sites across Ontario to be held back, considering the extensive public consultation that led up to its opening — which included community stakeholders such as the Windsor Police Service.

"The incident in Toronto is really being used to add to the existing stigma that's held by members of our political class who sadly remain disconnected in understanding the mental health and addictions crisis that we are in," said Brennan.

According to WECHU, "less than half" of visits to SafePoint in October were for the purpose of supervised consumption. SafePoint also offers drug checking, harm reduction supplies and connections to mental health and other social support services — all for free.

"I'm concerned about the winter months as they arrive," Brennan added.

"That's going to create more challenges for our community, closing the doors right at a critical moment when the service users need them the most." Top Stories

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