New Montreal safe injection site creating controversy in city’s Southwest borough

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New Montreal safe injection site creating controversy in city’s Southwest borough
WATCH: New Montreal safe injection site creating controversy in city’s Southwest borough – Sep 16, 2023

A new resource for people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and addiction issues is creating controversy in Montreal’s Southwest borough.

Construction is well underway on a new facility where a community organization will offer transitional housing with the goal of getting people off the streets. However, the new building will also include a supervised drug consumption site.

With its close proximity to a park and an elementary school, some parents say they are worried.

“It’s very alarming for us, because we don’t really know what the consequences of this will be,” said Melodie Turcotte, whose toddler daughter regularly plays in the park.

The upper levels of the new Maison Benoit Labre will offer 36 studio apartments for the unhoused, and social workers will be present on every floor.

“It’s really core transitional housing to get people off the streets and into an organized life,” explained Saint-Henri city councillor Craig Sauvé.

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The lower level of the facility is what really has Turcotte feeling uneasy. There will be a supervised drug consumption site, where people will be allowed to use illicit drugs with social workers present.

“I want to stress how important it is to help people who are experiencing homelessness and addiction,” said Turcotte. “At the same time. I can’t think of a worse location for a facility like this.”

The building is right next to the city’s busy Atwater Market and Victor Rousselot Elementary School, which uses the park as its schoolyard.

“If it becomes overcrowded, what’s going to happen? Will there be spill-over into the neighbouring park, which is just literally footsteps away?” Turcotte wonders.

In the works since 2019, the facility has approval and funding from every level of government.

“Projects that are rooted in harm reduction practices are one of the ways that communities can actually work together towards bettering the quality of life for pretty much everybody, but especially marginalized communities,”said Olivier Gauvin, a coordinator for the Table des organismes communautaires montréalais de lutte contre le sida.

Sauvé says the goal of the facility is to stop people from consuming drugs in public spaces, which has become increasingly frequent in the neighbourhood.

“What we want to do is take that consumption from outside, and bring it inside under supervision. That means less syringes, it means less people having crises in the streets,” he explained.

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Turcotte wonders if the new site could cause more drug dealers to descend on the neighbourhood.

“If people are going there to use drugs, does that increase criminality?” she asks.

An online petition against the facility has more than 1,600 signatures, but not all parents in the area have signed.

“I think people with mental health issues need help, even though it [makes] the rest of us maybe uncomfortable,” said Ivana Markovic, as her child played in the park.

If it’s not possible to move the safe injection site, Turcotte wants to be reassured things will run smoothly.

“They need make sure that it has the resources it needs to run adequately and that it’s very safe,” she said, saying the understaffed health system makes her wonder if the facility will have enough employees.

“We’re paying for a social worker to come clear the park in the morning before school starts. We’re going to build fences in this park,” said Sauvé. “They’ll have a clean up brigade as well that’s already in operation in our neighbourhood.”

An information session at the school gym Tuesday evening will welcome those for and against the new facility. Parents, project coordinators, police officers and politicians will be among those sharing their perspectives.


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