The public health unit has struck an agreement with two landlords, for supervised consumption facilities at 241 Simcoe Street and 446 York Street in London.
Medical officer of health Chris Mackie says he’s “very confident” in both partnerships; the London-Middlesex Housing Corporation owns an apartment building at 241 Simcoe Street, and has agreed to rent out five units on the ground floor for a supervised consumption facility. The other facility is the current home of John Bellone’s Musical Instruments, which Mackie said is moving out of its 3,800-square-foot space on York Street.
“Both facilities are well-positioned to offer the crucial life-saving service of a supervised consumption facility as well as those wraparound services,” said Mackie.
Once the provincial and federal approval processes are complete, Mackie hopes the facilities will be up and running in six months, with six consumption stations inside each.
Letters have been sent out to property owners, businesses, and residents within a 120-metre radius of each proposed location. There will also be two neighbourhood meetings next week; the meeting for those around 241 Simcoe Street will be at the Middlesex County Building at 399 Ridout Street North on Thursday, April 26 at 4 p.m., while the meeting for those living and working in the vicinity of 446 York Street will meet in the same location starting at 6:30 p.m.
The health unit and its community partners have also applied for a federal exemption to allow for a mobile supervised consumption facility.
“We haven’t exactly nailed down the locations, we have some draft locations in mind. But there will be a stop in downtown, a stop in or near Old East Village, and then a stop in SoHo,” said Mackie.
“We’ve had an outpouring of support from landlords, from citizens, from neighbourhood and business association groups — it’s great to be heard and to be able to make this announcement that we can confidently move forward.”
Last month, the MLHU was having promising conversations with the landlord of 372 York Street. That dialogue hit a snag following public outcry from those who’d planned an entrepreneurship centre development across the street, at the London Free Press building, and the landlord ultimately pulled out.
Speaking with 980 CFPL’s the Craig Needles Show on Friday, the owner of a downtown business explained why it’s important to leave the ‘not in my backyard’ attitude behind.
Jeff Sage, from sagecomm on York Street near the Greyhound Station, says supervised consumption facilities aren’t a celebration of drug use, but an acknowledgement that all community members’ lives matter.
“We feel pretty strongly that none of our needs as individuals, or even my bottom line as a business supercedes the rights of other people to access the health care they need, especially when their lives are on the line.”
READ MORE: Doug Ford promises to add long-term care beds, speaks out against supervised injection sites
In response to a question about supervised consumption facilities during a pre-campaign stop in Sarnia on Friday morning, Doug Ford said he “doesn’t believe in” supervised consumption sites.
“I believe in supporting people, getting them help,” he said in reference to drug rehabilitation programs.
“If your son, daughter, loved one ever had an addiction, would you want them to go into a little area and do more drugs? I am dead against that. But I fully understand, fully understand, there’s a small epidemic out there, opioids and the rest. We have to help people.”
“I absolutely agree with Mr. Ford that we need more rehabilitation services in our communities,” said Mackie, when asked what he thought of Ford’s comments.
“The first step to recover is staying alive, so supervised consumption facilities are a crucial part of the spectrum.”
London opened a temporary overdose prevention site in mid-February; by April 10, Mackie tweeted that it had seen more than 1,400 visits, with just three overdoses and no deaths.