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Location for new safe consumption site expected by early 2021

'When people are dying at such an alarming rate, it’s imperative that we take politics out of it and listen to the science and evidence,' says city councillor

The location for a new safe consumption site (SCS) for Barrie is officially down to two choices and community consultations will help decide which one is ultimately chosen.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) have been working closely with the SCS Site Selection Advisory Committee since last year to secure a location for a SCS.

A SCS provided a safer and clean space for people to use their own drugs under the care of nursing and other staff. They can connect clients to doctors, treatment and other health and social services. 

The two proposed sites are 110 Dunlop St. West, (Unit 4) and 31 Toronto St. (at the back of the property). The two properties have been deemed the most viable by the committee after a comprehensive search process and a "criteria-based comparison" of site options.

On Aug. 28 of this year, a list of five potential SCS locations - all in or around the downtown core - was unveiled.

Dr. Lisa Simon, associate medical officer of health with the SMDHU, said the health unit had not commented on any sites previously, saying there was a “leak of an official list”, but this is the first public acknowledgement of possible sites.

“This is the first time the advisory committee and our organizations as applicants, the CMHA and SMDHU, have commented publicly about the site options and the selection at this point,” said Simon. “There has been quite a comprehensive process in place to get us to this point.”

She said choices were determined by a diverse advisory committee that includes residents and landlords. The committee is also working with a real estate agent who has contacted every landlord with relevant property in town.

Simon said the real estate agent has handed out 409 letters to landlords, with only 10 responses.

“The other change is we are doing community consultation this time, specifically with regards to the two options that we’re proposing,” said Simon. “We have a choice this time, we have more than one property as opposed to when we really only had one (90 Mulcaster St.).”  

Simon said that the first time around, they “balanced what we felt was a thorough job, but also moving with urgency given the nature of the situation.”

City council, at the time, told them to go back to the drawing board.

Ward 2 councillor Keenan Aylwin told BarrieToday he is confident the applicants will be conducting extensive public consultation on the two sites that they’ve proposed and whatever comes back should be the final decision.

“It is my opinion that the recommendation made by public health experts and the advisory committee should stand. When people are dying at such an alarming rate, it’s imperative that we take politics out of it and listen to the science and evidence,” said Aylwin. “Being anti-SCS is like being anti-mask, it’s an anti-science position that puts our community at risk and may cost lives.”

Aylwin compared the response to the current worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 and what he says is the second major health crisis, which is opioid overdoses.

“During this global pandemic, we have seen people embrace the advice and direction of public health officials to great success. It is my hope that Barrie City Council will listen to the advice of public health officials who are calling for the creation of harm reduction services like an SCS, just like we’ve listened to their expert advice on COVID-19,” said Aylwin.

“The rejection of the initial proposal was an anti-science position, but we have a chance to reverse that by listening to the science and supporting people in our community with much-needed services,” he said. 

According to Simon, the applicants have sent monthly updates to council to keep them informed about the process. 

“We will continue in the month of October to ensure council is informed as to where this work is at. The next actual decision point for council really comes down to when we come to them for endorsement of our application,” said Simon.

“There are still a number of stages before that endorsement is sought, one of which is now a community consultation since we have the two proposed locations.”

The results of the consultation will be reviewed by the advisory committee, which will put the ball in the applicants' court who will then be tasked with deciding which location they will take to council for approval.

Simon said the consultations will take place throughout the fall, and that “perhaps in the early new year we will be more sure of our next steps.” 

All information regarding the process and steps to how the applicants and committee have got to this point are on the SMDHU website here

The health unit has also provided a link to a survey where the community can give their thoughts on the locations.