Mayoral hopeful pledges supervised consumption site to address Winnipeg bus shelter issues
Harm reduction approach tough to implement without province on board, Coun. Sherri Rollins says
A Winnipeg mayoral candidate promises to bring a supervised consumption site to Winnipeg as a way to prevent people from living in transit shelters.
"We keep putting our head in the sand. Nobody wants to deal with it," said Rick Shone during a news conference Monday.
"There's a number of people talking about it, but we need somebody to actually take some concrete steps."
Shone, who owns Wilderness Supply in Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, presented this campaign promise after the city's public works committee voted to dismantle two Transcona bus shelters. The councillors made the decision in part due to safety concerns about people using drugs in the shelters.
Shone said supervised consumption sites would help people before they get to the point of using drugs in a transit shelter.
"There's a lot of other things that we need to be doing to potentially get to people before they start consuming drugs," said Shone.
"Once people start consuming drugs, what we need to do is have the ability to go to safe spaces like a supervised consumption site so that they can meet with counselors, they can meet with health professionals."
Shone said he believes the province should be involved in funding the site, considering he said a site would cost between $1.5 to $3 million a year to run. He said, however, that the city should make the first move, based on a report to council last year that stated Winnipeg could go ahead with a supervised consumption site without the Manitoba government's blessing.
For Shone, making the first move means creating a pilot project to test out a supervised consumption site, along with a five-year plan to keep it going.
Conversations in city hall for years
Bringing a site like that to Winnipeg isn't a new concept at 510 Main Street. Mayor Brian Bowman has been asking the province to get on board for years.
Families minister Rochelle Squires said in a Monday interview that the Progressive Conservative government has done "over 400 consultation from community partners" to create a homelessness strategy that looks at several different ways to address the issues Manitobans face.
"We're looking at all options because we do recognize that there are many challenges that were exacerbated by the pandemic, and we need to move swiftly to alleviate and address some of these concerns," she said.
Earlier this year, Minister of Mental Health and Community Wellness Sarah Guillemard also said she was open to supervised consumption sites.
Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) has been actively working to bring harm reduction tools to the city since 2021. Although on paper, the city could work on a supervised consumption site without the province, Rollins said it just wouldn't work without provincial help since Manitoba's health-care system is focused in that jurisdiction.
"Well, where is it? How come you just haven't snapped your fingers and done it? Because we don't have near the health infrastructure," Rollins said in an interview Monday.
"What's next? The emergency rooms are backed up and you're going to talk to the city about this?"
Rollins, who toured consumption sites in Vancouver earlier this year, pointed out the City of Winnipeg doesn't have a health department like Toronto, and that the resources needed to properly run a site would be provincial jurisdiction, such as physicians and nurses.
To make anything work at a city level, Rollins said it would take other levels of government.
"We're absolutely laying the groundwork. You can see me coming from a mile away and I've not stopped. But where's the commitment? Where's the work at the legislature? Where is it in Parliament? People are apoplectic at the inaction."
The fire paramedic service noted in an email that the department is creating a way to review letters of support from community organizations who want to decriminalize possessing small amounts of drugs — a request city council made in May. The city's CAO wasn't available to comment Monday.
The paramedic service would have direct involvement in a supervised consumption site.
"WFPS has been experiencing a concerning rise in substance-related medical calls since 2016 and is moving to align the department with a community risk reduction lens that assesses local risks, targets resources based on root causes, and works with community groups, city departments and other stakeholders to reduce risks over time," Michelle Lancaster, spokesperson for the WFPS, wrote.
Rollins, who's running for councillor again this fall, said she won't stop bringing up harm reduction at a city level. And to any mayoral candidate who wants to join in and support supervised consumption sites, she has one word to say.
With files from Jenn Allen