Tempers flare at supervised consumption site public input meeting

The Middlesex London Health Unit has proposed two downtown locations for a supervised drug consumption site: 241 Simcoe St. and 446 York St.

2 meetings were held Thursday night to explain why the two sites were chosen and to listen to concerns

Dozens of Londoners came out yesterday to a neighbourhood meeting on the health unit's proposed supervised consumption sites. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Londoners are learning more about how the city's first proposed supervised drug consumption site could affect them should it land in their neighbourhoods.

The Middlesex London Health Unit has proposed two downtown locations for the site: 241 Simcoe St. and 446 York St.

But those prospects raised tensions between some London residents and public health officials on Thursday at a public information session about the plans.

About 40 each people came out to two separate meetings related to the proposed sites.

241 Simcoe St.

One of the buildings operated by London and Middlesex Housing Corporation. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

The 12-storey apartment building operated by the London and Middlesex Housing Corporation is tucked behind the Goodwill donation centre.

Nearby resident Debbie, who did not want her surname made public, said she regularly disposes of used needles in her backyard and near her home.

She abruptly left the meeting outraged at the proposal that she said will bring more harm to her SoHo neighbourhood.

Debby lives in the London's downtown SoHo area. She raised concerns over the health unit's proposed supervised consumption site. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"Some drug users will come into our neighbourhood and abuse our neighbours and the people in it," she said. "There are a lot of seniors in our neighbourhood [now] afraid to come out at night."

Angela Lukach, president of the SoHo Community Association, attempted to shut down hesitancy over the proposal.

Angela Lukach is the president of the SoHo Community Association. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"I am asking everybody in this room to give this a chance so that the people who live in 241 Simcoe St. get a chance to have safer lives and a better quality of life. Addiction is a complicated issue and recovery is just as difficult," she said.

"We have to show compassion to everybody and that means whether or not you live in SoHo or somewhere else."

446 York St.

Staff at John Bellone say the music store will relocate if the landlord enters a lease with the Middlesex-London Health Unit, which has proposed to turn the space into a supervised drug consumption site. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

The building is currently home to a local music store, which would relocate should plans come to fruition.

It's also across the street from from the Men's Mission. 

Area resident Deana Ruston said she supports the proposed location because people using it could also use nearby social and health services.

"It's a good thing for the community and for the neighbourhood — giving people those supports and resources that they might not otherwise have access to," she said.

"It's all about coming alongside people where they're at and helping those who need help. This is what looks like right now. Let's do better a community"

Next steps

Kits filled with equipment are laid out for people using injection drugs at London's Temporary Overdose Prevention Site. (Amanda Margison, CBC News)

Overall, residents raised concerns related to increased crime, lack of communication and disruption on local businesses.

Chris Mackie, the city's chief medical officer of health, said the health unit is listening to input and might adjust current proposals. 

"We recognize that community members understand their neighbourhood better than organizations involved do and we need their input to make sure to get it right," he said.

Less than two weeks ago the health unit was looking at two other locations including 372 York St. before the landowner walked away from lease negotiations.

The other location — 120 York St. — faced opposition from a string of downtown businesses.

In February  the health unit opened the doors to a temporary overdose prevention site at 186 King St. That site is filling a need until a permanent location is found.