Other landlords offering properties for supervised drug use sites: Mackie

The Middlesex London Health Unit has cancelled plans to present their top options for a permanent supervised drug consumption site to city councillors at a Monday meeting.

The health unit has cancelled a planned presentation to city councillors about possible injection sites

(Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

The Middlesex London Health Unit has cancelled plans to present its top options for a permanent supervised drug consumption site at city hall Monday. 

But medical officer of health Chris Mackie said he's had an overwhelming amount of support since lease negotiations for a facility at 372 York Street failed. 

The cancellation of the presentation to city councillors came a day after the lease negotiations fell through after undisclosed problems. 

The presentation to the planning committee was a key step in opening a permanent location for the city's drug users to inject and consume drugs under medical supervision.

"I wish things had worked out differently," said Mackie. 

"We've had an outpouring of support from the community, with people offering up solutions and different locations." 

Mackie wouldn't say what locations people were offering as possible sites. 

The health unit has said it wants a location between 2,500 and 10,000 square feet. 

Still on the table is a site at 120 York Street, in a building owned by downtown mega-landlord Shmuel Farhi. Farhi did not return calls Thursday or Friday.

Farhi has said he is opposed to the 372 York Street site because it's directly across the street from the London Free Press building, which he has purchased and plans to convert into an innovation hub. 

The site is owned by the Donohue family, which owns nearby the Donohue Funeral Home. Numerous calls to the owners of the property were not returned Thursday and Friday. 

Right now, drug users can use a temporary site set up on King Street. It opened in February on a six month permit but there are options to renew the permit for up to 2 years.   

'A desperate need'

Dr. Sharon Koivu works with people who inject drugs. She's seen young drug users die from heart infections that normally affect much older populations. 

"I started in medical school in 1980 and I lived through discovering HIV and how people were treated, and there are definite similarities," Koivu said about the treatment and stigma of drug users. 

"If this were a cancer centre, we wouldn't be having this discussion. I think there's a tragedy because we are marginalizing people who have a problem, and a supervised consumption site would make a site safer in general." 
Soon after 372 York St. was announced as the preferred location of a safe consumption site, Farhi Holdings Corporation contacted the Middlesex-London Health Unit to offer up 120 York St. as a better fit for the facility. (Bernard Graham/CBC)

London has a very high injection drug use problem and there's "a desperate need" for a permanent supervised injection site, Koivu said. 

"A supervised consumption site prevents overdose deaths and is a harm reduction method, but perhaps most important, it's a message (to drug users) that we value you, we value your life, and we're going to help you in your process in recover," she said. 

"That's the first step in recovery, to feel valued." 

A permanent site will reduce discarded needles and people using drugs in the open, Koivu pointed out. 

"I'm very optimistic that we'll find a site," she said. "The area that gets this is going to be fortunate in that they will have a service to help people." 

Janette MacDonald, the general manager of Downtown London, said she's been working with the health unit to find possible locations. 

The key is to find something close to other services, but not in a place where drug users are harassed or shamed for going into a supervised injection site. 

"We want people to be successfully treated and cared for, and for that to happen, the site needs to be discreet," MacDonald said.