Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie said in an open letter Monday that he’s “done a complete 180-degree turnaround” regarding a supervised consumption site in Guelph and is urging Barrie city council to support the development of a local facility.
In the letter that Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman posted on Facebook, Guthrie said lives are being saved and crime in the neighbourhood hasn’t skyrocketed.
“I was once like many of you. There was no way an overdose prevention site, or a safe consumption site, would ever open its doors in my city,” Guthrie wrote. “But then the opioid crisis landed on my city doorstep. Just as it has to yours. Our city was trying to use any means necessary to combat the problems associated with these issues, but we were missing a tool in our toolbox. And that tool is the safe consumption site.”
Lehman told Global News on Monday that the letter speaks to the experience of a city that is very similar to Barrie.
“When we’re looking around to understand what the potential impacts of one of these sites are, it’s important, I think, that we look at cities that are somewhat similar to ours and obviously to hear from the mayor of Guelph is particularly relevant,” Lehman said.
According to the Barrie mayor, the populations of Barrie and Guelph are similar in size. Both cities are roughly an hour from Toronto and are regional centres, Lehman said.
“Guelph sits in Wellington County, and it’s the one big city in Wellington County,” he added. “We’re the one big city in Simcoe County, and when you’re the one big city in the county, people tend to gravitate to that city for services.”
According to Guthrie in the letter, people are getting help to lift themselves out of their addictions and other related health concerns. “Anecdotally, discarded needle complaints to my office in parks and laneways have decreased,” he wrote.
WATCH: Alberta man struggling with opioid addiction explains why supervised consumption facilities are important
Lehman said, in the beginning, he was also skeptical of setting up a supervised consumption site in Barrie, but he’s since become supportive of the facility.
“Part of it was hearing from the families of people who have died of addictions, died of overdoses,” he said. “What becomes very clear in those stories is they died because they took poisoned drugs.”
What’s different about the opioid crisis, in comparison to other addictions crises, Lehman said, is that the number of people dying has increased over the past few years due to poisoned drugs.
“They’re killing people,” Lehman said of the drugs. “Our best chance to combat that is to have a facility, which is a medical facility, where people can use safely and then hopefully we can get them into services.”
Lehman said Guthrie’s letter has reinforced his support for a supervised consumption site in Barrie.
In early June, Barrie city council postponed making its decision about whether to set up a supervised consumption site at the proposed 90 Mulcaster St. location.
“We all want to create ‘complete communities’ in our cities,” Guthrie wrote. “To accomplish that it means everyone is cared for, everyone has value and everyone in some way at some points in their lives needs a hand up, not a handout, in life.”
I want Guelph to be a city that embraces these values and I want my colleagues in Barrie to embrace them too.”