Supervised drug use site gets first stage of political support

A tense debate over a supervised drug use site that garnered unanimous backing from city politicians Monday night saw neighbours pitted against one another in what one councillor called a disappointing exchange.

A tense debate over a supervised drug use site that garnered unanimous backing from city politicians Monday night saw neighbours pitted against one another in what one councillor called a disappointing exchange.

At issue was a zoning change that would allow drug users a place to use drugs under medical supervision at 446 York St. The committee voted unanimously to recommend  council approve that rezoning application.

But critics, including some politicians, suggested the location is too far from drug use in the downtown, and too close to schools and daycares.

“I don’t think there’s a perfect location. That’s like searching for a mirage. We need to find one that works well and get on with it,” Deputy Mayor Jesse Helmer said of the York Street site, a property that houses John Bellone’s Musical Instruments and which is across York Street from the Men’s Mission.

The goal of a supervised consumption site is to prevent overdoses, move drug use and needles off the street, and help people connect with support services such as addiction treatment.

“People can’t get treatment if they’re not breathing,” Coun. Maureen Cassidy said, saying saving lives has to come first. She noted that drug use is happening near schools already.

But Coun. Phil Squire, who said he “supported (the site) with reluctance,” took aim at some speakers at a public meeting who he claimed “cast aspersions” on opponents of the site by suggesting they don’t care about Londoners with addiction issues. He said he was disappointed in much of the public discussion.

“This community also has every right to a thorough process, properly managed, to ensure we’ve got the right location.”

Many neighbours on York Street and in the surrounding area shared concerns about safety, security, and longer-term health needs of people who use drugs.

“Saying no to his location doesn’t mean we’re saying no to a safe injection site. You need to look hard at how it impacts the neighbourhood…there’s nothing wrong with saying no to this location,” said Lance Howard, who owns the building at 444 York St.

John Bellone, who owns 446 York St. and said he plans to rent it to the Middlesex-London Health Unit, called out opponents.

“I don’t think we’re arguing so much about where it’s going to be – because let’s look at it, it’s a pretty good spot – but if it’s going to be,” he said of locating the supervised site.

“There’s no sense of urgency. Somebody is in harm’s way today . . . They need help from us.”

At the temporary overdose prevention site on King Street — a short-term version of the supervised site proposed for York Street and another pitched for 241 Simcoe St. — more than 60 overdoses have been reversed since the facility opened in February 2018.

More than 200 people have been linked with addiction treatment. Officials say the temporary site typically serves about 25 people per hour.

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