A council committee meeting that ultimately saw unanimous support for a supervised consumption site at 446 York St. also served as the backdrop for heated discussion among people who live and work in the area.
The permanent facility is one of two in London that have gotten a nod from both the provincial and federal governments, but it still needs municipal zoning bylaw changes to move forward. Those changes were the subject of debate during Monday night’s public participation meeting.
Those opposed to the site argue it would be too close to nearby high schools, and residents already face security issues because of the nearby Men’s Mission.
Analee Baroudi, a lawyer representing downtown stakeholder Drewlo Holdings, also argued the zoning application was “premature and unfairly predetermined” because council endorsed the site as an appropriate location for a supervised consumption facility in May.
“This occurred before the application for the zoning amendment was ever filed, and has basically undermined the entire public process and compromised the public perception of objectivity for this application,” she said.
The previous endorsement came as part of an effort to get government funding, explained Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer, noting that issues of funding and zoning are “distinct” from each other.
Meanwhile, John Bellone, who owns the building on York Street and has agreed to rent it to the Middlesex-London Health Unit, accused those opposed to the site of worrying only about their own financial impacts.
“Don’t tell me about the kids that you’ve never met, don’t tell me about people you’ve never met that live across the street,” he said.
“I know these people across the street. I’ve let them in my store. I’ve let them try my guitars when they aren’t too stoned. … I’ve been part of this. There has been no help for any of these people.”
Bellone believes there needs to be a sense of urgency, because without the permanent site “somebody is in harm’s way today.”
More than 60 overdoses have been reversed at the temporary overdose prevention site on King Street, and more than 200 people have been linked to addiction treatment.
Public health officials say because of the facility and other outreach programs in the community, the HIV epidemic in London is starting to “trend down.”