WECHU 'encouraged' by wave of developments over SafePoint consumption and treatment site
After days of controversy over the location of the SafePoint consumption and treatment site in Windsor, a compromise was reached at the 11th hour before debate even took place Monday night.
Councillors Fabio Costante and Renaldo Agostino hashed out a deal to allow the supervised consumption site to open on Wyandotte Street, but also giving the downtown councillor the green light to search for a new site, pending approval from the health board.
“What's in our control is endorsing a site,” said Coun. Costante, who also serves as the chair of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) board of directors. “And so if we can mitigate against any delay, then that is a win for the community.”
Councillors hashed out the deal over the weekend to dismiss Agostino’s attempt to yank council’s support for the 101 Wyandotte St. E. location.
Instead, the location will be temporary and the downtown rep will seek to strike a site selection committee to choose a new location.
“It doesn't damage anything and more importantly, what it doesn't do is it's not going to cost any single person their lives,” said Agostino after Monday’s council meeting.
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit board now needs to meet to define and decide upon a new motion for council to consider in two weeks.
“We are encouraged by the decision of Councilor Agostino to reconsider last night’s motion, which ensures that renovations and our applications can move forward without delay,” reads a statement issued Tuesday by WECHU. “The details of the compromise referenced at the meeting will be brought forward to the Board of Health for decision in the coming week. We continue in our commitment to working with our community and elected officials on a transparent and evidence-informed process related to the location of this life-saving service.”
The last minute change of plans now begs the question: if a new location is to be chosen, where should SafePoint go?
Looking at other cities, Hamilton’s consumption site is a block from city hall.
London is currently served by a mobile unit and this summer one will open up about 300 metres from a high school in the city’s downtown.
A CTS site in Kitchener sits squarely in the downtown core, right across the street from city hall and a church.
It’s not just about concerns from nearby businesses and residents that has Agostino pushing for a new location, but also the impact on potential clients. He said a recent conversation with an old friend — who’s now a drug user — opened his eyes to the aspect of respecting human dignity and stigma experienced by people accessing these services.
“’Do you think when there's a Tigers game, and the cars are lined up along Main Street. Do you think I'm gonna walk in there?’” His friend told him. “’Do you think I'm gonna walk here so everybody that knows me or used to know me is going to see me walking in to CTS site? I'm not going to do that.’”
Bill Marra, the president and CEO of Hotel Dieu Grace HealthCare said this harm reduction strategy is but one prong of a greater plan for tackling the opioid and drug crisis in the community, which also includes prevention, treatment and enforcement.
“This is not for everyone. It's not going to solve everything, but it's certainly going to go a long way in providing another option,” Marra said.
He points to roughly 40 other CTS sites operating across Canada at this very moment, arguing they have been very successful in preventing overdoses and death. He also notes that myths around reduced property values and an uptick in crime around these centres has been proven false.
The discussion around location is missing the point — it’s really about opening up the service without further delay.
“There are lives that are at stake and that's not sensationalizing it or overdramatizing,” Marra said. “We know for a fact people are dying. This will reduce fatal and non-fatal overdoses for sure.”
Agostino will press forward with a new motion in two weeks and wants to lead up the search for a new location that works for everyone.
“The best for the people that need those services, the best for the people that live in the neighborhood, the best for the businesses that operate there,” he said. “I want to do better.”
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