Manitoba

Former facility for children in care is ideal for Winnipeg meth stabilization unit, says advocate

Marion Willis says the answer to the detox facility that Winnipeg desperately needs for methamphetamine users could be found in an abandoned property.

It's a shame that 10 stabilization beds are sitting empty, Marion Willis says

While the province is trying to get out of a lease for 800 Adele Avenue, a woman who runs a halfway house for recovering addicts says the property has the infrastructure to be a stabilization unit for meth users. (CBC)

Marion Willis says the answer to the detox facility that Winnipeg desperately needs for methamphetamine users could be found in an abandoned property.

The advocate, who runs a long-term treatment facility in St. Boniface, is eyeing a vacant building on 800 Adele Ave. in the city's West End as a place of refuge for meth users.

"If I were to plan a stabilization unit to house people struggling with psychosis, it likely wouldn't have been much better than what's there," Willis said. "It's perfect." 

The building is the subject of an upcoming legal battle as the province is trying to break a long-term lease and the owners have responded with a lawsuit.

The 18,000-square-foot facility was most recently used as an emergency placement for children in care but the program was relocated in early 2019.

'It's there and it sits empty'

While the dispute festers, Willis says it's a shame the property sits empty as Winnipeg grapples with a devastating methamphetamine crisis and a dearth of places for people who want to get clean.

She envisions a dedicated stabilization unit at 800 Adele to wean people off of methamphetamine, with offices for supporting organizations that would lead the programming.

The building already has 10 stabilization beds in secure units, she said.

Willis was invited to tour the building a few weeks ago by the property's owners and was swayed by its potential on her first visit.

"It would be a different story if there was no infrastructure to support this and we had to build it from new, but it's there and it sits empty — it's absurd," she said.

The province is trying to relinquish control of the property by prematurely ending a 20-year lease on the facility, citing an "indefensible contract" that wasn't tendered and cost twice the market rate. It was signed while the NDP was in power.

In return, the property's owners — Peter Ginakes, Ken Cranwill and a numbered company — are suing the province for a "a course of conduct that was motivated by spite, malice, duplicity and bad faith," the lawsuit states. 

The province has claimed that portions of the building were never fully occupied and programming never lived up to its potential, but the suit challenges those claims as well.

Willis wants the two sides to put their differences aside and reach an agreement that makes use of the facility. She said the owners are supportive of her idea, but she hasn't heard back from provincial officials.

Centre of excellence sought

"Let's quit talking about what the purpose of the building was and whether it was used adequately or not adequately," she said.

Willis wants organizations like St. Boniface Street Links, which she runs, as well as the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba and Main Street Project to have a presence in the detox centre.

She envisions the repurposed building as a "centre of excellence" for helping meth users get clean.

In a report published in June, a tri-government task force recommended more long-term treatment options to combat the province's meth crisis. 

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