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Report on supervised consumption site addresses community concerns

Downtown resident believes public being misled; 'This is a project that will affect not only all of Ward 2, but the entire city of Barrie'

After weeks of public consultations, the local health unit published its report Tuesday afternoon into the supervised consumption site (SCS) proposed for Mulcaster Street in downtown Barrie. 

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, the Gilbert Centre and the Canadian Mental Health Association have banded together to bring an SCS to the city, providing a safe and clean space for people to use their own drugs under the care of nursing staff.

The report includes responses from a public survey, consultations with community partners, such as city police and local politicians, as well people with lived experience when it comes to drug use. 

The report indicates that 2,039 people who live, work or go to school in Barrie, 47 people with lived experience, and 24 community partners participated in the community consultations.

"Based on the way the data was collected, consultation results represent the perspectives of the respondents only, and do not represent the entire Barrie community," the report states. 

With the city's opioid problem, almost half of all respondents said they believe an SCS would be helpful. It was also noted that the top three benefits of an SCS would include a reduction in public drug use, reduced risk of injury or death from an overdose, and less needles being found in parks and on the street. 

About two-thirds of people said they had concerns surrounding an SCS in Barrie, including that the facility could encourage drug use, that more users would be in the neighbourhood, and overall community safety. There was also the belief that an SCS would lead to increased crime, drug trafficking and drug use. 

Additionally, the vast majority of people surveyed with lived experience said if an SCS opened in Barrie, people who use drugs would visit the facility.

The findings will next be presented to city council in the coming weeks and, if it receives the blessing of councillors, the group will apply to the provincial government for what the Ford government is calling Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS) facilities.

The province has said CTS facilities must have "wrap-around services" and easy access to rehabilitation programs. 

The local group has proposed 90 Mulcaster St., in the building adjoining the David Busby Centre, for the Barrie site. 

Matt Turner, harm reduction co-ordinator at the Gilbert Centre, said the group will try to mitigate community concerns in a variety of ways, such as security guard on-site and forging a community liaison committee to address ongoing worries around the site. 

"We'll also be having open houses once a month and also prior to the site opening, so folks will have the ability to see what the site does and be able to visit us on a monthly basis," Turner said. 

Some people who live downtown have already raised concerns about the site and how it's being presented to the public. 

"There continues to be a lack of transparency around the proposed safe injection site," Clapperton Street resident Liz Saul told BarrieToday.

However, Turner said the health unit and its partners, including the Gilbert Centre, have been sharing information through social media and on their website, where the consultation report was published Tuesday.

"It's been quite public," Turner said. "We've been up front with the public about what we're doing and we've been quite transparent with our open houses, our public meetings and the application process.

"I would say it's not a secret what we're doing and our engagement process," he added. 

Mailers were sent out to around 2,000 households in a 300-metre radius around the proposed site regarding a drop-in meeting scheduled for Wednesday, May 15, from 5-8 p.m., at Collier Street United Church in the Fellowship Hall.

"People who will feel the greastest impact are within that 300 metres," Turner said. "If you're just slightly outside that 300 metres, there's still no reason why you couldn't attend."

However, the drop-in nature of the meeting "effectively silences any negative comments being released to the greater population," Saul said. She says the public is being misled. 

"The notice of that meeting has only been sent to residents within 300 metres," Saul added. "This is a project that will affect not only all of Ward 2, but the entire city of Barrie."

Turner says he hopes the consultation report will help quell public worries. 

"I believe it will, because it does highlight what some people thought were the concerns and our responses to it," he said, "so I think it will alleviate some concerns and answer some questions as well about the process around the consultations and how we decided on a site location."

The full 56-page report is available here

The next steps include a presentation to general committee at Barrie City Hall, scheduled for May 27, to discuss the consultation report and rationale behind choosing the Mulcaster Street site.

City council is expected to vote on the matter June 3. If they endorse the plan, the local group will then proceed with their application to the province for a CTS while also making any changes that members of council raise.