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Group behind safe injection site told to revisit other locations

One possible site discussed was to put supervised consumption site in vacant space at the downtown bus terminal

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include information about Coun. Jim Harris declaring a conflict of interest on the matter. 

City council has told the group behind the push to open a supervised consumption site (SCS) in Barrie to look at finding alternative locations to 90 Mulcaster St., after hearing from several neighbourhood residents in opposition Monday night.  

They've been told to come back to council June 24. 

Matt Turner, harm reduction co-ordinator at the Gilbert Centre, one of the organizations behind the SCS application being developed for provincial approval, said they are being given three weeks to come back with more information following a year-long process which arrived at 90 Mulcaster as the preferred location for the SCS. 

"This could drag it out for another year," Turner told BarrieToday outside the council chambers, adding he doesn't believe there's an appetite for an SCS in Barrie. "I feel nothing is going to work."

Turner characterized the timeline for looking at alternative sites "unrealistic and inappropriate," adding that will take longer than just a few weeks. 

Last week at general committee, councillors gave initial approval for an SCS to operate at the Mulcaster Street building, just up the street from city hall. 

However, at Monday's council meeting, council heard from several people voicing their concerns over 90 Mulcaster, which led to councillors wondering if there might be other sites better suited for an SCS, which would provide a safe and clean space for people to use their own drugs under the care of nursing staff.

For the last few months, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), the Gilbert Centre and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit have been working on an application for what the Ford government calls a Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS) facility. They must also co-apply to the federal government for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. 

The facility would be provincially approved and funded, but they require approval from city council before they can proceed to the province. Without the city's support, officials have said they can't move forward with the provincial application.

Over the course of more than an hour, nine people spoke out against the proposed 90 Mulcaster site and what they viewed as a rushed process with little public consultation. 

Drew Dekker called the survey about the site was "fundamentally flawed." 

"This community should have confidence ... on something that could devastate a neighbourhood," he said, adding council should hold off on a decision until it can have third-party analysis. 

Dekker said the process has been "too rushed" considering the sensitivity of the issue. 

"We're trying to ram this through" without sufficient input from the neighbourhood, he said, calling for at least a year before a decision is made on something that could have such wide-ranging effects. 

The neighbouring David Busby Centre, a facility which helps the city's homeless population, needs to "clean up its act" before an SCS should be placed in the same area, Dekker said. 

"It would be equivalent to opening a bar at an alcohol treatment centre," said Dekker, adding elementary schools in the area regularly conduct field trips that go by the proposed site. "Our children should not be witness to this lifestyle or at risk of being hurt."

Dekker suggested a better location would be outside of residential neighbourhoods. 

Colby Marshall, who owns property in the area, said there are already people "passed out in the dirt" outside the David Busby Centre and an SCS will only make things worse. 

McDonald Street resident Neil Little said 90 Mulcaster is not the proper place for an SCS.

"People are afraid to go outside already because of the David Busby Street Centre," said Little, a facility he referred to as "dysfunctional" and "out of control," and which is already making the neighbourhood "unstable."

Hollie Mann, with the Barrie Downtown Community Coalition, which has approximately 70 members, urged council not to rush anything. 

"If the city gets this wrong, it will be costly," she said, adding there will be more crime, such as thefts and assaults, from people high on drugs after leaving the injection site. 

Barry Mills, who owns a house on Peel Street, said there are lot of young families moving into the area, which also includes a substantial seniors population. He said the neighbourhood has changed a lot since he moved in. 

"We never feared going out during the day or at night," he said, adding the area is now overrun with "unfortunates" who perform drug deals in the nearby park, leave litter behind and harass residents.

"The solution is to put the facility in the area where there are the most users," said Mills, who suggested the Service Ontario building on Simcoe Street. 

Mills said the group behind the SCS "tailor-made" their decision to choose 90 Mulcaster because the CMHA already owns the property. 

The CTS facility, if approved, would be open from 7 a.m. until 1 a.m. the following morning, seven days a week. Officials expect between 30 and 45 people using the site daily. It would have around 20 staff members, including three full-time and three part-time nurses. It would also have an estimated $1.5-million annual operating budget. 

"There's no perfect site that everyone will like," said the health unit's Dr. Lisa Simon, adding a neighbourhood somewhere in the city will ultimately have to host the health-care facility.

Some of the province's site criteria includes that the facility be within one kilometre of open drug use; that it be on a bus route; that it be no less than 100 to 200 metres of sensitive land uses such as child-care facilities, parks and schools; and that it have wraparound services. 

Data collected for the period of January to September 2018 now shows the city has the second worst problem among large municipalities. Previous data had placed Barrie third in the province.  

Coun. Doug Shipley said, "if we're going to do this, we need buy-in from all of the community. ... We haven't really had a choice."

The councillor said he was in support of an SCS, but suggested another location that could work is the downtown bus terminal on Maple Avenue, which has vacant space as well as an existing on-site police presence. 

Coun. Keenan Aylwin said he was against deferring the matter, because "it could mean dozens of deaths" in the meantime. 

"We need to act," he said. "This is not an easy decision ... and people are dying at an alarming rate."

"We're never going to find a place within two weeks," Deputy Mayor Barry Ward, adding the downtown bus terminal would be a "non-starter" for him for similar reasons raised over the Mulcaster location, such as its proximity to Berczy Park. 

"It's not easy to find a place for a much-needed facility like this," said Ward, noting the Mulcaster site was chosen by the group behind the application. 

Mayor Jeff Lehman noted he also doesn't believe the bus terminal would be the proper location, adding Mulcaster Street was chosen due to on-site CMHA counselling services as well as the neighbouring David Busby Centre. 

"That simply isn't true anywhere else," added the mayor, noting the Mulcaster site has the "best chance to succeed."

If council wants to locate a different site, they will end up in an "endless loop" of trying to find it, Lehman said.

Coun. Jim Harris, whose day job is as the director of operations for Canadian Mental Health Association's (CMHA) Ontario Division, did not participate in the debate or the vote after declaring a conflict of interest. He also has a family member who works for CMHA Simcoe County, which owns the property at 90 Mulcaster St. 


Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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