Hiring a third-party consultant, asking them to investigate all of Canada's safe injection sites and then report back to councillors in October is an "unrealistic" expectation, says one of the officials behind the local application.
"What council is trying to do is not support it without saying they don't support it," Matt Turner, harm reduction co-ordinator at the Gilbert Centre, told BarrieToday.
The Gilbert Centre, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) have been leading the push in the past several months to open a supervised consumption site (SCS) in the city, which has one of the worst opioid problems among Ontario cities and is getting worse.
An SCS is a place for people to use their own drugs in a clean and safe environment.
The group must apply to the province for an SCS, but part of the application includes an endorsement from municipal council.
On Monday night at Barrie City Hall, council delayed their decision again by choosing to hire a third-party consultant, at a cost not exceeding $50,000, to have a closer look at other sites across Canada. They are scheduled to report back to general committee by the end of October.
However, Mayor Jeff Lehman noted at Monday's meeting that it can take anywhere from 60 to 90 days just to go through the procurement process, which is required because public money is being used.
"I've never heard of a supervised consumption site consultant," the mayor said. "I believe there are knowledgable people out there who might be able to fulfill something like the scope of this work... but there's nothing specific to the scope of work here.
"To me, it is not at all feasible," Lehman added. "I personally think the original scope of work is feasible, but I will certainly vote against this particular timeframe, because I don't think it's been thought through, to be frank."
Council voted to hire a consultant and report back in the fall.
Turner says that doesn't leave much time.
"That gives the consultant maybe 30 to 60 days to do that entire report," he said. "I think that's a little unrealistic. Council felt our (previous) process was rushed, and that the opinion of our report shouldn't be valued because of that rushed timeframe of 10 months, so I really don't know what to make of it."
There are also concerns that no one will respond to the request for proposal (RFP).
When local health officials issued a similar RFP last September for someone to come in and complete the public consultation process as part of the feasibility study, they had no takers.
"Because no one picked it up, the health unit did the consultations," Turner said. "The health unit was supported by us (the Gilbert Centre), the CMHA and couple of other agencies, but they did ... a big chunk of the legwork by themselves."
Part of it may have been the cost was too low for such a high-profile undertaking, Turner speculated, and he fears a similar scenario could happen again.
"Council could also turn around and say the person is not a neutral party, either," he added. "The person who is likely to respond to the RFP is someone who's already done research around an SCS, and someone likely whose literature is going to support the work of an SCS, so I think that person will not likely be seen as a neutral third-party.
"It doesn't seem to be well thought out."
Public health officials have maintained that 90 Mulcaster is their preferred location for an SCS, calling the other sites they investigated "far inferior" in comparison.
Earlier this month, council deferred a decision whether to endorse an SCS at 90 Mulcaster.
Turner questioned what would happen if the consultant came back and said 90 Mulcaster is the best site.
"I think council's just trying to delay saying 'no', at this point," he said. "I think council has made their decision that they're not going to support the site."
In the meantime, the group behind the application is being strung along with further delays, Turner added.
"I would prefer that, if they're going to make a decision, then make a decision," he said. "At this point, we don't know what's going to come out in October. It's hard to say, but it does sound like they're trying to delay it and hope that we go away by October."
Council has previously heard from several people opposed to the 90 Mulcaster location, including its proximity to the neighbouring David Busby Centre in the same building, which led to the group behind the proposal being told to investigate a "more suitable location" for the facility, which still requires provincial approval. One location that council wanted the group to look at specifically was unused space at the Maple Avenue bus terminal.
When talks began several months ago around an SCS in Barrie, the city ranked third in the province for opioid-related deaths. It has since risen to second place on the list.