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Permanent safe injection site secured in Hamilton, will also serve as new day centre

A nurse shows how supervised injections work at an Edmonton CTS.
A nurse shows how supervised injections work at an Edmonton CTS. File / Global News

Hamilton will get a permanent supervised injection site, now that the city has secured a location, after a search that has lasted months amid the ongoing opioid crisis.

That site will also serve as the new location for the Wesley Day Centre, which has been in need of a new space since its landlord said it wouldn’t renew its lease at Ferguson Avenue North.

READ MORE: Hamilton city council approves Wesley Day Centre alternative in light of expiring lease

Paul Johnson, the city’s general manager of emergency and social services, said the location — which won’t be revealed until January — will allow the city to apply for provincial funding of a permanent location for a Consumption & Treatment Services (CTS) site to provide support and supervision for drug users.

It was welcome news for several delegates who had prepared to speak at the city’s Emergency & Community Services meeting on Friday morning.

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One of those speakers was Dr. Jill Wiwcharuk, a physician with the Shelter Health Network, who said she’s grateful for the announcement of a permanent location for a CTS, but also expressed frustration.

“We cannot be complacent, and I feel that there’s been some complacency here,” said Wiwcharuk. “In the one supervised injection site that we have, the one tiny little room that was meant to be a stop-gap measure – a temporary measure – until a larger, more comprehensive permanent site could be found.”

READ MORE: ‘Dramatic’ increase in opioid addiction and mental health issues according to Hamilton’s Vital Signs report

She was referring to a temporary supervised injection site that opened at the Hamilton Urban Core community health centre on Rebecca Street in 2018, but she said Hamilton’s need far outweighs what that one location can provide.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that this is a crisis.”

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Last year, there were 123 confirmed opioid-related deaths in Hamilton, according to the city’s public health department. That was more than double the total number of opioid-related deaths two years prior.

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Going forward, Wiwcharuk urged the city to improve its communication with those who are working on the front lines of the opioid crisis.

“I implore you, can we please work closely together to ensure that the lack of communication and coordination between different branches of the city – and between the city and the community – does not reoccur moving forward? Can we have hard deadlines and bi-weekly check-ins with accountability for those deadlines?

“Our response needs to match the scope of this emergency.”

Joe Speagle of the local harm-reduction advocacy group Keeping Six echoed those sentiments.

READ MORE: Opioid-related deaths of young people have risen dramatically in Ontario: study

Speagle said he hopes those who work on the front lines will have a seat at the table in terms of setting up and running the site.

“We’re in the trenches. We’re out there, we’re fighting this battle every day,” he said. “We’re losing our friends. People are dying every day in this city for no reason. People are being denied access to services for no reason in this city. And that has to stop.”

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Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark said he completely understands the cynicism from the frustrated delegates. He said the city had been working hard on finding a location for the CTS but acknowledged they could have done a better job of communicating that to those involved.

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“I think we could have done better by having some briefings in public and updating the public in terms of where we were,” said Clark.

“I apologize for that. We could have been more forthcoming with that information.”

READ MORE: COMMENTARY: Safe injection sites save lives, this doctor says

The announcement of a site having been secured is also a sigh of relief for those who have been fighting to keep the doors open at the Wesley Day Centre, which received some funding from the city to continue operating until March 2020, but had still been in need of a new permanent location.

While appearing on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show on Friday, Andrea Buttars from Wesley Urban Ministries confirmed that the CTS will be amalgamated with the new day centre.

“We really want to thank the community for all their support,” said Buttars. “And particularly our clients, and our volunteers, and our staff, for all their patience, as we have worked to come towards a solution to what we experienced in 2019.”

Buttars said more information about the new day centre will be released in the new year.

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