'People are scared': Drug activity near mobile consumption site hurting business in Kamloops, B.C.
City councillor says move site to hospital parking lot away from local businesses
Gerald Thiessen is fed up with seeing needles and hearing ambulances in the alley near the popular pizza joint he owns in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Papa G's Cafe, in the 500 block of Seymour Street, is right next door to where Interior Health has parked a mobile supervised drug consumption site that provides clean needles and overdose support to drug users. The problem, says Thiessen, is the site — a converted RV— has become a hub for drug users and dealers and their activities are driving away his customers.
"People are scared to come down here," said Thiessen, who said he has talked to other business owners and the residents in nearby seniors' facilities and "everybody is fed up."
"The seniors won't even cross the street to come to the restaurant," said Thiessen. "The sidewalks are full of [users] and dealers."
He estimates the ambulance responds to overdose calls in the area four to 10 times a week, because people are more often using near the consumption site, then inside it.
"The safe injection site is not doing what it was designed to do. It's a waste of taxpayers money," said Thiessen. "It's probably saved lives of the people that have used it, but there's not that many that use it."
Debi Morris, administrator for mental health and substance use for Interior Health, says the mobile site moves between two sites and in 2018, staff prevented over 90 overdoses and had over 6,000 visits. The unit moves between two locations on the city's north and south shores and the Seymour location on the South Shore is "significantly well used."
Morris told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce the health authority worked closely with community partners to determine where the site would be located, but staff are not deaf to Thiessen's concerns and are consulting with partners now about locations.
"We are really trying to hear the voice of our partners in the community and our business owners and we are currently exploring options for alternative use," said Morris.
Kamloops Coun. Bill Sarai says the unit should be moved to the parking lot at Royal Inland Hospital.
"Let them deal with this pillar," said Sarai. "This health issue should not negatively affect the rest of the city."
Interior Health's four pillars of community response to substance abuse are harm reduction, prevention, enforcement and treatment.
Sarai said the health authority has been lacking when it comes to treatment and he would like to see more recovery beds coming to the city as part of a long-term solution.
He called the mobile unit a "Band-Aid solution" and wants Interior Health to create better support services that are not "enabling [users] to keep doing drugs" but "get them off the drugs and get them well."
No silver bullet
City Coun. Mike O'Reilly offered some short-term solutions while the long-term location of the mobile unit is being discussed. He suggested the unit be moved out of the Seymour parking lot when it is not operating, which he said, business and property owners have told him they would appreciate.
"They feel there's a lot of symbolism and people can come around, because the mobile site is there," said O'Reilly.
He also recommended extra police and bylaw patrols to "help break up the concentration" of drug users and dealers at its current location.
"They're not going away," said O'Reilley. "If there was a silver bullet to the solution, council would have pulled the trigger years ago."
To hear the complete interview with Gerald Thiessen see the audio link below.