City council approves drug consumption and treatment site in downtown Windsor
Health unit will now submit its application to the provincial, federal governments
Windsor City Council has narrowly approved the location of a drug consumption and treatment site — a space that health officials and advocates have been pushing for in the past few years as the region struggles with an opioid crisis.
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.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens was among those voting against the plan, citing concerns about the location's impact on businesses.
Dilkens, who was not present for the entirety of the debate, said he'd like to see the site operate at the Water World building, where the Housing, Homelessness and Health Hub is located.
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) can now submit an application to the provincial and federal governments.
Nearby business owners argue against site
The discussion during Monday's council meeting kicked off with a presentation from WECHU and then councillors heard from more than a dozen delegates, ranging from business owners close to the site to mental health and addictions professionals.
Mandeep Johar, who owns the property beside the site, said she understands this space may be necessary for people but doesn't want it beside her building.
"With this being open next door to the building it's going to affect the businesses that are currently there, our tenants and if the tenants leave it's going to affect us because this is our retirement savings that we have been working very hard towards," Johar said.
General manager Daniela Maceroni for Quality Inn & Suites, located at 675 Goyeau St., made similar statements.
She claimed that the site will "tarnish our reputation, lower our scores and impact the hotel's viability and existence."
Maceroni added that they often find needles and garbage around the area, as well as have people experiencing homelessness frequently enter the lobby of their hotel.
But health expert delegates emphasized that the site would be monitored and have security measures in place, adding that this sort of location would likely put a stop to the needles and unwanted entrances.
As well, Lindsey Sodtke, who oversees a consumption and treatment site in Guelph, said their space hasn't disrupted nearby businesses.
'One more step ... to that safe neighbourhood'
The health unit began collecting information for a possible site in 2018.
Since then, the opioid crisis has only gotten worse in Windsor-Essex, according to a 372-page document that went to council.
Data from the Windsor Essex Community Opioid and Substance Strategy (WECOSS) says that opioid-related deaths have continued to rise at an "alarming rate" over the last five years, and that the pandemic "has only served to exacerbate the local opioid and overdose crisis."
Board of health member and Coun. Rino Bortolin, whose ward includes the downtown core and will house the consumption and treatment site, said he understands the concerns from business owners.
But also said the discussion emphasizes the need to educate the public.
"This isn't just an issue for homeless people or people experiencing mental health issues and things like that, this may be someone from Ward 1, Ward 6, Ward 7 driving downtown to use a safe consumption site without any judgment," he said.
"I've had to use ward funds to buy needle boxes, while other people are buying slides for their playgrounds, I have to worry about needle boxes in some of our areas — to help ensure that those parks are safe. This is one more step in getting to that safe neighbourhood, safe area."
But those who were against it, including Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac, Coun. Fred Francis, Coun. Jeewen Gill, Coun. Ed Sleiman, cited concerns over policing resources, nearby businesses and the model itself.
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