Hamilton

Election puts pressure on social agencies trying to create supervised injection site

The looming provincial election next month is putting pressure and adding a layer of uncertainty for social agencies that are looking for a home for a supervised injection site in Hamilton.
Hamilton's social agencies are having a tough time finding a place for a supervised injection site in the city. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The looming provincial election next month is putting pressure on social agencies that are looking for a home for a supervised injection site in Hamilton. 

With the writ about to drop and the election bringing the possibility of a new premier who is vehemently opposed to these sites, stress and uncertainty is mounting. 

"If Doug Ford gets in and puts the breaks on everything, it could be an issue for us, and any [sites] that are currently operating," said Daljit Garry, executive director of Wesley Urban Ministries, which is one organization that is trying to find a home for a new permanent location.

Ford, the leader of the province's Progressive Conservatives, said last month he is "dead against" supervised injection sites and believes the focus should be on drug rehabilitation instead.

It's  NIMBYism  — we don't want it in our backyard. That's really unfortunate.- Daljit  Garry, Wesley Urban Ministries executive director

"I don't believe in safe-injection areas, as I call them. I believe in supporting people, getting them help," Ford said in Sarnia, Ont. in April. The provincial Liberals and the NDP, by contrast, support the creation of these sites. 

The city endorsed a plan for a place where drug users could more safely use substances like opioids and crystal meth late last year.

But even with that green light, social agencies are having a hard time finding a place to put one.

NIMBYism rears its head

Garry said that earlier this year, Wesley had attempted to get approval for a site at 195 Ferguson Ave. N. That's where Wesley Community Homes, which is a distinct organization, has a 115-unit complex for low-income residents with problems like addictions and mental illness.

Wesley Community Homes shot that down, she said. 

"It's NIMBYism — we don't want it in our backyard. That's really unfortunate," she said.

An application for a separate, temporary site that was sent to the province weeks ago has been held up after the agencies learned that plans to place a trailer in a municipal parking lot at 76 John St. N. had to be halted because of building permit and zoning requirements.

Wesley is also pursuing a separate application for a mobile site, which would be a permanent program even though it is able to move around.

As social agencies find these roadblocks, people are dying of overdoses at record rates in Hamilton.

Between January and October 2017, there were 70 confirmed and five probable deaths linked to opioids, compared to 41 during the same period the year before.

"Quite literally, people are dying on the streets," said Allan Whittle from the Good Shepherd, in an interview earlier this week. "I used the analogy of the Grim Reaper. You just don't know when, where or who is going to be taken from us."

Lagging behind Toronto

Garry says she's worried that Hamilton is "lagging behind" in the creation of harm reduction sites.

Two new temporary overdose prevention sites opened their doors to Toronto drug users last week.

Those sites received approval to operate under an emergency response program introduced last year by the Ontario Ministry of Health, which provides funding and legal sanction to temporary overdose prevention sites for six months at a time.

Toronto's first sanctioned, permanent supervised injection site officially opened its doors last November.

"Yet we're heading halfway into the new year with nothing," Garry said.

With that in mind, Wesley is doing whatever it can to find a solution, she said.

"We're continuing to plug away. We're very determined to provide this service to the community."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

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Adam Carter

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Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.