SoHo supervised injection site has neighbourhood group's blessing

Opening a supervised drug-use site in London’s SoHo neighbourhood will make the area safer, not more dangerous, the head of the neighbourhood association says.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit announced two new proposed locations for the sites where people would use drugs while being monitored by health-care workers: 241 Simcoe St. and 446 York St- writes lfpress.com

If approved by Health Canada, the York Street location will be housed in a building now occupied by a music store across the street from the Men’s Mission, while the Simcoe Street location will operate out of a public-housing building with a reputation for drug activity and crime.

“It would be a good solution to what we know is drug use in our neighbourhood,” SoHo Community Association president Angela Lukach said. “It’s about safety and harm reduction.”

Lukach, who has lived in SoHo for a decade, said she’s spoken with residents who have expressed frustration over finding used needles on streets and sidewalks, in parks and along the banks of the Thames River.

“There is an overwhelming support for this,” she said of the safe-use site, where health officials have vowed to provide security, just as they do at the temporary overdose prevention site on King Street.

The landlord of the proposed Simcoe Street site, the London and Middlesex Housing Corp. , suggested bringing the service there, saying the move supports its mission to provide and maintain homes in a safe and supportive environment and meet the needs of people in the community.

“This is our vision in action,” corporation chief executive Josh Browne said in an email.

“There are many unanswered questions and concerns around SCFs (supervised consumption facilities) that need to be answered and addressed. However, what we do know is that the current system is not working and the status quo is not acceptable. Doing nothing is not an option as our tenants and our community deserve better.”

There is an overwhelming support for this.

SoHo Community Association president Angela Lukach

Supervised drug-use sites provide users with clean supplies and a safe space to consume under the supervision of medically trained staff armed with the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone. Health officials tout the operations as a necessary response to the deadly opioid crisis gripping the London region.

Coun. Tanya Park, whose downtown-area ward 13 encompasses both proposed sites, said she supports the heath unit’s plan, noting she hadn’t received any backlash from her constituents over the weekend following Friday’s announcement.

“At the end of the day, my stance on this has always been they need to be in places where they’re going to be beneficial to the people that are going to use them,” Park, who is running for mayor in the fall, said of the sites.

“They have to be in places where (clients) are going to be welcomed.”

But one longtime business owner isn’t happy about the proposed York Street site, where John Bellone Musical Instruments now operates.

Dennis Krogman, who has run an automobile dealership beside Bellone’s for 46 years, called the proposed location “horrible.”

“It’ll be another battle,” Krogman said in an interview.

He wrote a letter to council opposing the previously proposed site in a vacant building one block west on York Street.

That plan was abandoned after the landlord pulled out.

“These people need rehabilitation – they don’t need enabling,” said Krogman, adding he has spoken with nearby businesses about the suggested York Street site. “Nobody wants it.”

People who live and work near the proposed sites will have an opportunity to speak at two public meetings Thursday.

Both permanent and temporary sites need to first be approved by Health Canada.

The province also must give its consent. Dr. Chris Mackie, Middlesex-London’s medical officer of health, has said the location or locations of the sites must be decided soon so the province can sign off before the June 7 election campaign begins.

Ontario Health Minister Helena Jaczek has praised supervised injection and drug overdose-prevention sites, saying they have reversed hundreds of overdoes in the province and helped fight the opioid crisis that killed more than 1,000 people last year.

Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford weighed in Friday on safe-use sites, saying in a stop in Sarnia he’s “dead against” them.

He said if he becomes premier he would take steps to fight the province’s opioid crisis and help people struggling with addiction but he didn’t elaborate.

Public health officials in London have also applied to Health Canada for approval to create a mobile supervised injection service – a first in Ontario – that will stop in four designated intersections in the city.

In February, a temporary overdose prevention site — the first in the province —opened at 186 King St., where Regional HIV/AIDS Connection operates a clean needle exchange program.

WHAT’S NEXT

– The health unit and Regional HIV/AIDS Connection will seek input about the two proposed permanent drug-use sites at public meetings Thursday at the Middlesex County Building. One at 4 p.m. is for those who live or work near 241 Simcoe St., with another at 6:30 p.m. for 446 York St.

– Region’s medical officer of health will seek feedbac

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