The journey that began several years ago to find a location for a supervised consumption site (SCS) in Barrie is close to reaching a destination.
City council general committee gave tentative approval on Tuesday endorsing 11 Innisfil Street as the site for a SCS.
The Simcoe County Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) would operate the site with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) acting as co-applicant.
A selection advisory committee had also considered locations at 110 Dunlop Street West, 11 Sophia Street West and 192 Bradford Street.
As part of the plan, staff will work with the applicants to address fencing, landscaping, security cameras, discarded needle collection boxes and appropriate property and maintenance standards. A SCS Advisory Committee would have to be established and a security plan developed. The applicants would also be required to prepare an annual report to council.
“This is a crisis and an emergency, so a crisis response is needed, and that’s what a supervised consumption site is,” said Councillor Keenan Aylwin, who represents the ward where the site is proposed to be located.
“It’s an emergency response to save lives in the short term.”
Health officials said there were 133 confirmed and probable opioid-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka in 2020, with 47 confirmed and probable deaths in Barrie from January-September 2020, two times the 2019 rate for that period.
The vote to endorse the site was 8-2 with both Councillors Gary Harvey and Mike McCann expressing concern about a 24-hour home-based childcare facility across the street.
“It’s not a childcare centre,” said Dr. Lisa Simon, Simcoe Muskoka Associate Medical Officer of Health, when addressing McCann’s concerns, “which would be a larger facility caring for a larger number of children.”
“Would I prefer there was not a home-based childcare centre across the street? Of course, I would. Nobody would design things that way. But that is unfortunately not the reality of communities, and people who use drugs are part of communities and need to be served in our community.”
McCann felt there had to be a better way to help people addicted to drugs and suggested a SCS was not treating their disease.
“I care deeply for people with addiction (issues), I just think this is a band-aid.”
Councillor Robert Thomson found no cause for celebration in general committee’s decision.
“I think as a community and as a council we shouldn’t think of this as a victory,” he said. “This is a service that it’s sad we need to consider in our community. It’s actually a failure of society. I just hope that we can build on this one pillar.”
A staff report said the community consultation and engagement activities highlighted consistent benefits and concerns for all of the proposed sites.
A summary of the benefits for all sites include:
• A reduction in drug overdoses, deaths and injuries;
• A reduction of drug use on the streets;
• A reduction in needles and drugs on the streets;
• A reduction in the risks of diseases such as: HIV and Hepatitis B and C; and
• An increase of support services for those in need.
A summary of the concerns for all sites include:
• Overall community safety;
• Impacts on businesses;
• Impacts on neighbourhood cleanliness; and
• Decrease in property values.
The Innisfil Street location was favourable in terms of a large space with room for growth, proximity to those who would use the facility and a separate entrance. Concerns ranged from the impact on area businesses and a location with nearby residential properties.
Mayor Jeff Lehman referenced the drug activity already taking place at nearby Milligan’s Pond.
“I think the reality for this community, not to be too blunt, but particularly for the folks across the street is – you can have an unsupervised consumption site in your backyard or you have a supervised consumption site in your front yard that might stop some of the problems.”
In a presentation to general committee, the CMHA and SMDHU pointed to wraparound social service agencies that would be key to getting the users of the SCS the help they need, noting some of them were already on site and would be available to meet clients.
The Ontario government currently funds 16 safe consumption sites in the province and is committed to allowing five more. Council general committee was told a decision on the Barrie application could take six months.
The thumbs up from general committee must still be ratified by city council at its meeting on May 31.
If rubberstamped, the CMHA will send an application to the federal government for exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to the province to seek funding approval for the SCS.