Opening of London’s supervised consumption site pushed back to summer 2022: RHAC

In Dec. 2018, city council rezoned the York Street address of a former musical instrument shop to allow for a supervised consumption facility. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

The opening date for London’s first permanent supervised consumption site has been pushed back until at least the summer of 2022, the operator of the upcoming facility says.

The Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC) had hoped to open the doors of the new permanent site at 446 York St. by the end of November, however the agency’s executive director told Global News over the summer the date had been pushed back to March 2022.

Speaking with Global News on Friday, Brian Lester said they were now hoping to open the facility in the summer of 2022.

“Every time I’m asked this question, I get it wrong because there continues to be variables,” Lester told The Morning Show with Devon Peacock.

“I’m hoping that the summer of 2022 and I’m going to leave that open because I have been asked this multiple times… I’m just hesitant to quote anything specific.”

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Lester said RHAC was continuing to work with the province to finalize a capital application for funding that would include covering costs for retrofitting the site, which formerly housed John Bellone Musical Instruments.

Afterward, the project will go to tender, and a company will be selected to retrofit the space, at which point “we’ll get a better sense of that timeline,” Lester said. Retrofitting the space is anticipated to take about four to six months at a cost of around $1 million.

“It will happen. It is moving forward. It’s just taking longer than we had hoped.”

The delays are being blamed in part on the COVID-19 pandemic, cost variables, and supply chain issues related to the construction sector.

Lester said the same problems have been impacting RHAC’s efforts to retrofit 602 Queens Ave. where some of the agency’s operations, such as HIV/HCV support services, the mobile harm reduction outreach team, and RHAC administration, are to be relocated.

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The permanent York Street supervised consumption site has been years in the making.

The city rezoned the lot to allow for a such a facility in December 2018, prompting appeals from neighbours in opposition.

The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal dismissed the appeals in March of 2019, and the province gave final approval to the plan last November.

As work has been underway to get the permanent site off the ground, RHAC has continued to operate a temporary overdose prevention site (TOPS) at 186 King St. in the downtown core.

“Once we move out of that space and have a site that’s fully designed in a way that will really effectively serve the folks that we’re working to reach… we’re excited about that,” Lester said.

Construction along King Street for the downtown loop portion of the city’s bus rapid transit system, and a major high-rise project taking shape next door, have created access challenges for those who need the site, Lester said.

“People continue to come to the site, but it’s been hard for even receiving orders of supplies materials because it’s just not easy access on King Street,” he said, adding the city and developer have been working with RHAC to alleviate problems.

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The need to open a permanent site comes as opioid-related deaths rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a provincial report published late last year.

Middlesex-London recorded opioid-related deaths of 80 per 100,000 people between March 16, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020, compared to 49 per 100,000 during the same time period in 2019, according to a follow-up report this past May.

A total of 2,426 people died from a confirmed or suspected opioid-related death in 2020 across Ontario, making a 60-per cent increase from the 1,517 people who died in 2019, according to the report.

— with files from Andrew Graham

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