'More will continue to die': User urges regional councillors to act on drug sites

A regional committee has voted to hold public consultations on supervised consumption sites at the end of January and in early February, but the process has dragged on for so long, one drug user told councillors she fears she might die before the sites are opened.

Regional councillors vote to hold public consultations end of January and early February

Jenny Kirby says she currently uses drugs in her own home in Kitchener, but she'd considering going to a consumption and treatment site if one were open. She expressed frustration at the regional community services committee meeting Tuesday that the region hasn't opened any kind of consumption site. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

A regional committee has voted to hold public consultations on supervised consumption sites at the end of January and in early February, but the process has dragged on for so long, one drug user told councillors she fears she might die before the sites are opened.

Jenny Kirby delivered a passionate delegation before the region's community services committee on Tuesday.

She's a drug user who says she'd use a supervised consumption site and treatment services site, and she's frustrated there's been little progress by the region to open one.

"More will continue to die as you continue to talk," she told councillors. "I'm tired. I'm very, very tired. First, I lost patience. Then, I lost hope. Maybe next, I'll lose my life."

The committee was meeting to discuss public consultations on locations for supervised consumption sites in Waterloo region.

"I'm sick and tired of having these discussions, of talking all the time without meaningful results," Kirby said.

Kirby was one of 15 delegations at the meeting that looked at next steps regarding consumption and treatment services sites, which have previously been known as supervised consumption sites.

Staff made three recommendations for next steps.

One was to remove 149 Ainslie St. in Cambridge from the list of possible locations for a site. Four locations were still presented as options — one in Cambridge at 150 Main St., and three in Kitchener at 150 Duke St. W., 115 Water St. N., and 105 Victoria St. N.

The report also asked councillors to approve a move forward with public consultations and thirdly that staff should be directed to submit a letter of intent to the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care to open a site.

Staff said they need to have a letter to the ministry by April.

Kirby called that letter, "completely pointless."

All of the measures that passed at the committee would still need to go to regional council before going ahead.

150 Main St.

The committee's discussion was lengthy, lasting more than four hours. Much of the debate focused on 150 Main St. in Cambridge, a location still being considered for a consumption site.

This site would fall within an area covered in a bylaw from Cambridge city council that aims to exclude sites within the Galt core.

Cindy Watson, a trustee with the Waterloo Region District School Board, read statements from the board as well as the Ontario Muslim Academy located on Beverly Street in Cambridge. Both raised concerns about the location.

"We must also do our due diligence and protect our children," she told councillors, urging them not to disregard guidelines set out by the province, which include that sites should not be within 200 metres of a school. The location at 150 Main St. would be 190 meters from Central Public School, she noted.

Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry and Cambridge regional councillors Helen Jowett and Karl Kiefer all expressed concerns.

"I'm not sure how you can go ahead knowing the residents and the businesses are not in favour of that particular location," Kiefer said.

Adam Cooper, a resident in Cambridge, said the region needs to be careful about where it places any possible sites. He said he lives near 150 Main St., and he's had break-ins at his home and has been physically accosted on the street.

"The fear is real," Cooper said of the feelings of residents impacted by the opioid crisis and other social issues in the Galt core. 

A demonstration was held in July in Cambridge with people on both sides of the supervised consumption site debate taking part. Colleen Nolan told CBC K-W at the time the are needles 'everywhere' around her home in Churchill Park and she doesn't like the idea of her 14-year-old daughter coming across used and possibly contaminated syringes. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Motions pass without Cambridge support

McGarry said she would agree to removing 149 Ainslie St. as a potential location, but that was the only staff recommendation she was prepared to support. She did not want to see consultations on 150 Main St.

The first part of the motion, to remove 149 Ainslie St. as a location, passed unanimously.

Coun. Sean Strickland amended the second part of the motion about public consultation to say public health staff will also agree to consider other locations. That amended motion passed, with McGarry, Jowett and Kiefer voting against it.

McGarry, Jowett and Kiefer also voted against sending a letter of intent to open a site to the province.

'Kitchener seems to be more compassionate'

Pastor Janaki Bandara of St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Preston lives across the street from 150 Main St. and says while some of her neighbours oppose having a consumption site there, she thinks it's a good location.

She's volunteered at the Bridges shelter in Cambridge, she has picked up needles and she worked and volunteered in downtown Kitchener before moving to Cambridge.

There's a "wall of ignorance" around addiction Bandara said, and education about addiction and these sites is necessary.

She also said there is a different "heart of compassion" in downtown Kitchener compared to Cambridge, likely because of long-standing businesses and services like The Working Centre and St. John's Kitchener.

After her delegation, Kirby said she thinks it would be a good idea for the sites in Kitchener and Cambridge be separated.

"Kitchener is much more agreeable to this idea. There hasn't been this really vocal loud backlash to these sites," she said. "Kitchener seems to be more compassionate toward these people and historically they have been."

She said she hopes the region will make a decision to open a site soon.

"People who want to use these sites, their voices aren't being heard," she said. "Maybe if it opens up and people see it's not going to destroy the community — we're not planting a bomb in the community — maybe Cambridge residents and business owners will then be more agreeable to having a site."


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