Passionate debate over supervised consumption sites dominates regional committee meeting

Over more than four hours, more than 25 people spoke about supervised consumption sites in Kitchener and Cambridge at the region's community services committee on Tuesday.

'The community is not going to forget who did this,' one Cambridge resident says

People sit and watch the region's community services committee on Tuesday. There were close to 30 people who offered their thoughts on supervised consumption sites in Kitchener and Cambridge during the meeting. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Over more than four hours, more than 25 people spoke about supervised consumption sites in Kitchener and Cambridge at the region's community services committee on Tuesday.

They were speaking about a staff report that recommended putting a supervised consumption site at 150 Duke St. W., in Kitchener over two other locations: 115 Water St. N. and a vacant lot at 105 Victoria St. N. that would require the region to build a facility.

Carolyn Keays lives with her husband in downtown Kitchener, they're expecting a baby later this year and, she told regional councillors that she supports a supervised consumption site.

Keays says if you had asked her about the issue eight years ago, she might have said the sites enable drug users and were generally not a good idea.

"I've learned and I've grown," she told councillors.

People use drugs in her neighbourhood, and Keays says they have a naloxone kit in their home, just in case.

"We want a location to be where people will be able to use it," Keays said in an interview after she spoke to the region's community services committee.

"You can put it in my backyard. I have a small backyard, but I know that people are using in and around my community anyway, and I'd rather they be safe and well looked after."

Keays was one of nearly 30 people who signed up to speak at the meeting, which committee chair Elizabeth Clarke said represented about five hours of delegations. The debate over the sites continue as Waterloo region saw the highest number of opioid overdoses ever in the last six months.

It will take about nine months to get one of the locations — on Duke Street — running if it is approved, staff said.

The report also recommended removing 150 Main St. in Cambridge from the list of potential locations and for staff to continue to work with officials in the city to find a suitable location.

Last month, Cambridge council extended a bylaw banning supervised consumption sites in downtown cores.

The meeting started just before 10 a.m. with a staff report. Speakers went until 3:30 p.m. and then councillors debated the motions.

Ultimately, the committee voted in favour of the staff recommendations, although Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic wanted to change the location to 105 Victoria St. N. 

The committee also voted in favour of an amendment by Vrbanovic to seek out options to open a site sooner, perhaps in a temporary location.

Carolyn Keays lives in downtown Kitchener and she told the committee she was in favour of a supervised consumption site near her home. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Consider other options, council told

Some of the speakers, including Natasha Campbell of Kitchener, spoke of their own struggles with addiction.

"The first time I overdosed, I didn't even know it had happened," Campbell said, adding that after her partner had revived her, she thought she had fallen asleep.

She said reaching out for harm reduction, in her case clean needles, was the first step for her in her recovery and Campbell said she feels she would have benefited from being in a safe place to inject her drugs where she could have also had relationships with health workers.

Connie Cody of Cambridge told councillors she wanted them to reconsider the consumption site model completely.

She said she wants the region to consider building a facility with treatment beds that focuses on education, prevention and rehabilitation.

"I feel like the consumption sites that are all over the place, that the way that they're growing, that they're growing like a social franchise and that would signify failure, not success," she said in an interview.

Waterloo region currently has no supervised consumption sites.

Cody suggested the facility could be built outside the cities and that would protect businesses.

"I think outside of the city limits so that there's not engaging in the criminal activities and crime and shoplifting because that's a heavy burden for businesses to undertake," she said.

In November 2018, London secured federal approval for two permanent drug consumption facilities, and in December, Hamilton reported saving 23 lives in about six months at their supervised injection site.

'Say goodbye to Victoria Park'

Other speakers, including Karen Bords of Kitchener and Adam Cooper of Cambridge, said they were concerned there would be a rise in crime around the sites.

"Say goodbye to Victoria Park if you do this," Cooper said. "The community is not going to forget who did this."

Ralph Schmidt told councillors he's used drugs for 10 years and has overdosed 40 times. He said he'd use a supervised consumption site.

"I'm scared to use at home but sometimes, I don't have a choice," he said.

Coun. Michael Harris asked Schmidt if he had any thoughts on a code of conduct at the site for users, such as rules they'd need to follow, given concerns about a rise in crime around the site.

Schmidt said he didn't have any thoughts on what the rules should be but said if it's keeping people alive, he thought people would respect the area.

"You don't want to wreck a good thing," he responded. "Not everybody's a criminal."

Simone Morrison is the van coordinator for Sanguen Health Centre. She spoke in favour of supervised consumption sites at the region's community services committee Tuesday. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)


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