Advocates applaud Windsor council decision to green-light drug consumption and treatment site

Advocates in Windsor-Essex say having a drug consumption and treatment site could mean the difference between life and death for people in the community. 

'It is definitely what we need and I'm happy about that,' says one advocate

Brandon Bailey (left) and Lisa Valente (right) have both been advocating for a drug consumption site and more harm reduction measures in the city. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Advocates in Windsor-Essex say having a drug consumption and treatment site could mean the difference between life and death for people in the community. 

After hours of discussion Monday, Windsor city council voted 6-5, narrowly approving the location at 628 Goyeau St. for a drug consumption and treatment site. It also supported the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) in submitting an application for the facility to the provincial and federal governments, which need to give their approval before a site can open. 

But councillors who voted against the site were wary of the potential impact on businesses, as some business owners in the area expressed concern it might drive customers away.

The fact that the region is one step closer to getting a site as it continues to battle an opioid crisis is being welcomed by advocate Brandon Bailey. 

"It's great to hear that we're finally getting one, it's been a lot of time and a lot of work, a lot of educating the community to get to where we are today," he said. 

In 2019, Bailey was part of Windsor's Overdose Prevention Society, which opened an unsanctioned overdose prevention site in the downtown.

The group wanted a space where people could use drugs under supervision. Though it was quickly shut down by Windsor police, Bailey said many people dropped in to use the service. 

"So if there's a brick and mortar there in that location, there's so much substance use in that area that's being done outside already at this point, that it's only going to benefit people," he said. 

Pandemic has heightened opioid crisis in the region 

Over the last five years, opioid-related deaths have continued to rise in Windsor-Essex. In 2020, 68 people died from an opioid-related overdose — the most recorded in the region — and there were 358 opioid-related emergency department visits. 

A consumption and treatment site could eventually open at 628 Goyeau St. in downtown Windsor. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC)

The pandemic, according to local health officials, has only exacerbated the issue. 

Despite council's narrow vote, outreach advocate Lisa Whitehead said she applauds the outcome. 

"It is definitely what we need and I'm happy about that," she said. 

"I know that there's a lot of opposition and I understand the opposition. I have a son who is a substance abuser. I understand it very well; I believe it's more from fear and not being educated." 

Whitehead said it's important for the community to remember that this isn't "just a homeless issue," but is something that anyone in the community can struggle with. 

Lisa Valente, an advocate with Families Stop the Harm, also said she was happy to see the site moving forward but told CBC News it should have happened years ago. 

"A lot of people are losing their friends. Like, I'm getting phone calls every single day ... people lying in back alleys and so many overdoses and we're in a state of emergency right now and when you're in a state of emergency you need to take action," she said, adding she was also disappointed that half of council voted against it. 

A facility could open as early as the end of the year, according to the health unit, if further approvals are made. 



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