Thunder Bay·In Depth

People at the heart of Kenora's drug crisis call for consumption site to keep loved ones safe

As people in Kenora, Ont., continue to grapple with high rates of addiction and drug overdoses, CBC News spoke to three individuals who say a safe consumption site is necessary as an emergency measure to keep drug users safe.

Feasibility study into safe consumption site expected to be released this week

3 years sober from drugs, Kenora woman shares why a safe consumption site would help

6 months ago
Duration 1:09
Ruth Machimity says she started using drugs at age eight. Now, she offers peer support to those living with addictions, and says she wants to see a safe consumption site open in the city.

This story is part of a series exploring the drug crisis in Kenora, Ont., speaking with people close to the issue and looking at how some are trying to help.

Ruth Machimity spent seven years living on the streets of Kenora, Ont.

Now, more than three years sober from addiction, she's using her voice to advocate for more mental health and addiction resources.

Conversations about homelessness, addiction and mental health aren't new, but the issue has taken on new urgency in recent months amid spiking cases of HIV/AIDS and increasing violence in the northwestern Ontario city. 

Advocates and those close to the issue say a safe consumption site can be one way to at least minimize stigma and reduce harm. 

Machimity described her time being homeless as "a daily battle, a struggle."

"In all honesty, up until recently, I really didn't understand how to feel about it because being an addict on the street, you're just after that high. You're there to forget. You're there to numb all your past issues.

"I really can't say how I felt because I really didn't honestly feel anything."

That lack of feeling and lack of care are what scared her into seeking help, she said. Now, she does outreach work, using her lived experience to build trust and connections with people looking to recover. 

She recently spent some time with a 15-year-old girl, helping her clean her room. The girl confided she was experiencing meth withdrawals and asked how to cope with them.

She then revealed a serious foot injury she was hesitant to seek treatment for at the hospital, due to fear of discrimination for "being in the system," Machimity said. So she connected her with street doctor, Jonny Grek, to get help.

As Machimity has seen first hand, building that trust with vulnerable people can literally be life saving.

Kenora is 100 years behind when it comes to being open minded about this type of thing, and it needs to change.- Ruth Machimity, community advocate 

Machimity's dream is for Kenora to have a safe consumption site that offers harm reduction services and additional support all in one building. Results from a feasibility study into safe consumption services in Kenora, Fort Frances, Dryden and Sioux Lookout are expected to be released soon by the Northwestern Health Unit, after several delays.

Kenora Mayor Andrew Poirier has told CBC News he wouldn't comment on the calls for a safe consumption site until the health unit releases its safe consumption services feasibility study.

'Things need to change'

"If you had somewhere to sit and do your drugs and interact with people who aren't going to judge you, who are gonna tolerate and understand where you're at, it's going to work," said Machimity.

But discrimination against people who use drugs in Kenora is a big barrier, she said.

"Kenora is 100 years behind when it comes to being open minded about this type of thing, and it needs to change," Machimity said. "Because you can't sweep people under the rug and hope they're gonna go away. Kenora's gotta look at these people as their children."

WATCH | Leanne Davidson shares what her son meant to her:

Kenora mother loses son to fentanyl overdose

6 months ago
Duration 0:48
Leanne Davidson talks about her son, Mikael, who died at the end of November 2022 after struggling with addiction. She says she wants to see more mental health and addiction support in Kenora.

Leanne Davidson knows what it's like to be the parent of a child with an addiction.

Her son, Mikael, died at the end of last November from a fentanyl overdose. He was 31.

She described Mikael as funny, loving, encouraging, stubborn and curious. His struggle with addiction began in his teen years, but it was never something the family shied away from.

"We all always, as a family, saw this as a family disease and not a secret disease," said Davidson.

For Mikael, a 12-step program worked for him for a while as he looked toward gradual detox from drugs to total abstinence.

Davidson said she wants to share Mikael's story to spread awareness about Kenora's need for more resources around addiction and mental health.

Kenora's only detox centre, the Morningstar Centre, has 74 beds. If those spots are full, people have to travel elsewhere for help. If they can't afford private treatment, they may simply go without.

"We live in a country where there's treatment centres for those who have money, which I'm sure we have realized that addicts tend not to have," Davidson said.

She said that needs to change.

"We need more counselling services that are directly around addictions and recognizing … that everyone's journey is a bit different and everyone's path, whether it's harm reduction or complete abstinence, is different."

WATCH | Andy Stephenson shares his vision for a 24/7 safe consumption site:

Man with lived experience of homelessness, drug use on 24-hour centre

6 months ago
Duration 1:16
Andy Stephenson says he has experience with using and dealing drugs and being precariously housed. He says having a support centre open 24 hours would make it easier for people to access resources.

Andy Stephenson said he used to deal drugs in Kenora. Eventually, his situation changed and he began to run a soup kitchen with his wife at Jubilee Church.

He knows what it's like to be in desperate situations, without food and without housing, and said people going through these hardships are constantly being judged.

Stephenson is now involved with the community coalition Kenora Moving Forward. 

Members of the coalition recently made a deputation to city council asking for more support for the street community. Their vision is for a 24-hour centre that provides wraparound support. Council directed staff to look into the feasibility of such a space.

For people living with addiction, accessing services that are only open during regular business hours can be challenging, said Stephenson. Support needs to be available whenever someone is ready for it, he said. 

"Twenty four hours a day, you can come in at three in the morning. You want to speak to your mental health worker, that worker's there, period," he said.

That's something advocate Machimity is also pushing for.

"These organizations coming together and providing services 24/7 would probably help a lot more than just nine to five," she said. "Your suffering doesn't go on a clock."


Sarah Law


Sarah Law is a CBC News reporter based in Thunder Bay, Ont., and has also worked for newspapers and online publications elsewhere in the province. Have a story tip? You can reach her at