Windsor

Guelph's downtown consumption and treatment site could be lesson to wary Windsor officials

Councillors and Mayor Drew Dilkens who voted against the proposed location of a drug consumption and treatment site said they were concerned about its place in the downtown core. But officials and business owners against that site could eventually find it's a benefit to the area.

Business owner, site operator, tout the successes of their city's site right in the downtown core

A consumption and treatment site could eventually open at 628 Goyeau St. in downtown Windsor. City officials and local business owners are wary of the location, but Guleph, Ont.'s advocates say they may see the benefits. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC)

Councillors and Mayor Drew Dilkens who voted against the proposed location of a drug consumption and treatment site said they were concerned about its place in the downtown core. But officials and nearby business owners opposing that site could eventually find it's a benefit to the area.

That's according to those involved with a similar site in downtown Guelph, which has been operating for the last three years.

Lindsey Sodtke is the consumption and treatment services supervisor in Guelph and she spoke in support of a site coming to Windsor at city council's meeting on Monday. In fact, she sat through all six hours of that meeting.

"I think that much like in our community, and yours as well, it's natural for people to be worried and there's going to be concerns when there's a new service," said Sodtke. 

The Guelph site is set in the city's downtown core, and as Sodtke explains — as is Windsor's situation — it's because that's where people who need it are. 

What we do know is that there are fewer needles in parks and playgrounds and pathways. That there are fewer ambulance calls to emergency rooms because overdoses can be dealt with onsite- Marty Williams, head of Guelph's downtown business association

"What the information was telling us was that was where the overdoses were happening within our community and my understanding is for your community as well, that location is where overdoses are taking place."

At an hours-long council meeting on Monday, councillors voted 6-5 in favour of setting up the consumption and treatment site at the proposed location of 628 Goyeau St. 

Dilkens voted against the location because of the proximity to nearby businesses and Detroit-Windsor tunnel. 

A look inside Guelph's drug consumption and treatment site. (Submitted by Lindsey Sodtke)

Back in Guelph, executive director of the Downtown Guelph Business Improvement Association said he was initially skeptical of having such a site in the core, but now he sees it as a positive addition. 

"It took, I think, a long time of sitting and talking as a community, as a downtown community, as a business community, for us to get our heads wrapped around what a site like this and what a service like this would actually mean," said Marty Williams. 

"I was a skeptic. Leadership at the city, the mayor, was skeptical about this, and we really had to sit down together and go, 'What is this all about? What are they finding in other communities?'"

Three years late, Williams said the benefits are clear.

"What we do know is that there are fewer needles in parks and playgrounds and pathways. That there are fewer ambulance calls to emergency rooms because overdoses can be dealt with onsite," he said. 

Guelph's site is on the main street in a busy intersection surrounded by businesses, said Sodtke. She said it took time, outreach, and education to calm those who were wary of the site and explain how it operates. 

"We offer a life-saving service as a health-care service to prevent overdoses, but it's not just a space for consumption," she said.

LISTEN | Hear more from Sodtke about how Guelph's site works: 
Windsor city council has voted in favour of establishing a drug consumption and treatment site downtown , even though nearly half of council, including the mayor don't like the location. A few hours up the 401 in Guelph, a downtown consumption site is seeing great results. Tony Doucette speaks with Lindsey Sodtke, the consumption and treatment supervisor at the Guelph Community Health Centre.

Clients are able to connect with a peer worker — someone with lived experiences of substance use — nurses, harm reduction co-ordinator and also the site provides pathways to primary care physicians or mental health supports. 

Last year alone, the Guelph site prevented more than 40 overdoses and in only one case did someone have to be transported to hospital.

Sodtke said most people aren't even aware the site is there. 

"We're required to be very mindful of the privacy of our users," she said.

"The feedback we hear from the visitors of our centre is that they're not even aware that there is a safe consumption site within our building."

With council's endorsement Monday, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit can now complete submissions to Health Canada and province to open the site. 

Public health officials said they hope the site can be operational by the end of this year. 

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