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Barrie councillors get behind supervised consumption site

'This is an emergency response to save lives,' says Coun. Keenan Aylwin; Council will consider final approval at May 31 meeting
2021-05-12 11 Innisfil St. RB 1
The proposed location for a supervised consumption site (SCS) in Barrie is at 11 Innisfil St.

Barrie councillors have endorsed 11 Innisfil St. as the location for a supervised consumption site (SCS) in the city.

It would provide a safe space and sterile equipment for individuals to use pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of health-care staff. Consumption refers to taking opioids and other drugs by injection, smoking, snorting or orally.

“There are people dying at an alarming rate,” said Coun. Keenan Aylwin, who represents this part of Barrie. “These people are our friends, neighbours and loved ones. This is a crisis, this is an emergency.

“This is an emergency response to save lives in the short term.”

City council will consider final approval of this endorsement at its meeting on Monday, May 31.

Earlier this month, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit announced that 11 Innisfil had been identified as the proposed location for an SCS in Barrie. Also considered were 110 Dunlop St. W. Unit 4, 11 Sophia St. W., and 192 Bradford St.

“We do feel this (11 Innisfil St.) is the best site we are going to find to balance the needs of the clients and the residential community,” said Dr. Lisa Simon of the health unit. “There is an urgent situation that we have to address now. It’s to reduce the tragic overdoses and deaths the city is experiencing.”

The majority of councillors spoke in favour of the endorsement of 11 Innisfil St., also known as 80 Bradford St., Unit 940.

“There is no doubt the city of Barrie needs an SCS. … People are dying at an even higher rate than they used to,” Coun. Clare Riepma said. 

Local health officials said there were 133 confirmed and probable opioid-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka in 2020, with 47 confirmed and probable deaths in Barrie from January-September 2020, or two times the 2019 rate for that period.

“The people who will use the SCS have been battling drug addiction for a long time,” said Coun. Natalie Harris. “They can’t just stop. These are people who are really sick and really need help.”

“It is exceedingly urgent,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said. “No more delays.”

Only Couns. Mike McCann and Gary Harvey voted against endorsing 11 Innisfil St.

Harvey was concerned about its proximity to a private daycare across the street.

“I don’t think any of these (sites) are 100 per cent (acceptable), but 11 Innisfil St. is probably the best of the bunch,” he said. “But if we can’t protect the most vulnerable members of our community…”

“I do think we need something better for people in this community,” McCann said. “I’m not going to put my name on a Band-Aid (solution).”

McCann did try to change the endorsement motion, to involve the city in the lease arrangement for the site, but his amendment failed.

It came from something Coun. Sergio Morales said earlier in the meeting.

“It appears we are the gate-holders,” he said. “We lose control the moment we give the green light now.”

Lehman has said the province will determine the supervised consumption site’s location, but city council is being asked for a motion of support, for that specific location, for the application to the province’s ministry of health and Health Canada.

The mayor has said the province is unlikely to approve a site without a council motion of support or endorsement.

Councillors heard both the pros and cons of the preferred site Tuesday night during a presentation from the health unit and the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Simcoe County Branch (CMHA), which would operate the SCS.

Key benefits of 11 Innisfil St. include proximity to those who would use the site, a large space with room for growth (1,000 to 1,500 square feet) and a separate entrance, while key concerns include proximity to a residential area and a high-traffic area, plus the potential to negatively affect businesses there.

In its report, city staff said councillors could endorse the application for a SCS at 11 Innisfil St., subject to a number of conditions.

The conditions include the applicant entering into a site-plan application  or an exemption from full site-plan approval  process with the city to address fencing, landscaping, access, security cameras, discarded needle collection boxes, as well as appropriate property standards and property maintenance measures.

An SCS advisory committee should be established, along with a security plan and a needle sweep plan. Other related neighbourhood integration matters will also have to be addressed.

The search for a location was carried out by the lead applicant, the CMHA, and the local health unit as co-applicant, along with the SCS site selection advisory committee.