Drug consumption site 'almost across the finish line,' say councillors against attempt to change course
A trio of Windsor city councillors spoke out in support of the city's proposed supervised consumption and treatment services (CTS) site ahead of a Monday council vote that could put the project in jeopardy as the region grapples with an escalating opioid crisis.
Speaking in front of the site Friday afternoon as construction crews worked inside on renovations, councillors Kieran McKenzie, Jim Morrison and Fabio Costante said council should stick with its previous decision to support the project.
"I'm deeply disturbed by this motion coming forward to us on Monday," said Morrison, who represents Ward 10.
"We went through a lot of hard work and years of work on getting to this point and we're almost across the finish line and here comes something out of the blue."
That motion was put forward by Coun. Renaldo Agostino, who represents the downtown ward where the site is located. His motion asks council to rescind its support for the CTS, a drop-in facility where people can use drugs under supervision and get help.
In an interview with CBC Radio Thursday, Agostino said he supports the CTS concept but wants to see the site moved to a more suitable location since there is a hotel and other businesses nearby, as well as the entrance to the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Two businesses in the area that spoke with CBC News Thursday supported Agostino's push.
Agostino proposed looking at other options including embedding the facility within a space such as the Housing and Homeless Help Hub or operating a mobile unit.
The CTS site is located at 101 Wyandotte St. E., the southeast corner of Wyandotte and Goyeau Streets. While approved by council, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit is awaiting the green light from other levels of government.
Officials say, however, that the site could open as soon as the end of March.
Costante, who is the incoming head of the board of health and the councillor for Ward 2, said he was against the idea of putting the site within a facility serving the homeless community.
"Drug addiction does not discriminate amongst classes of people," he said. "It could come from any walk of life, it could come from any family, any economic class, and so having a standalone facility represents that and it gives them the safe environment and a more welcoming environment to choose."
He also defended the selection of the site, saying that there was a "robust" process over four years where more than 3,000 contacts were made through consultation with various groups affected.
Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara, the board of health's former chair, estimated that more than $700,000 has been sunk into the project.
Ward 9 Coun, McKenzie called it a "reckless undertaking" for the motion to come forward at this point in the project's timeline without consideration for the cost and legal obligations.
The motion has prompted a petition from the organization Pozitive Pathways calling on council to stay the course on the CTS site.
"The proposed motion being put forward is not about good governance or continued dialogue about where to receive services but an overtly hostile action toward people living with substance use who require connection to overdose prevention, support, education, treatment, and compassionate care TODAY!" it states.
But support for the project isn't universal among those with lived experience.
Derek Laing, who was passing by the CTS site on Friday, said that he is a former intravenous drug user himself — he quit 12 years ago — but doesn't support the idea of the site because he don't think it will help solve the problem of drug use around the city.
The site will save lives, though — if people use it, he said.
"To be honest, if it was around then, I would never have come. I'd rather have done it at home," he said, indicating that he hid his drug use from others.
Laing carries naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose, and he's had to use it several times.
"I see like 16-year-olds that are abusing fentanyl...It's terrible. And right now, I'm staying in a shelter and there's an overdose almost daily. So it's sad."
CTS site passed in narrow vote
In May, city council passed a motion to support the public health unit's applications to upper levels of government.
The motion in favour of the site passed in a 6-5 vote.
Including Agostino, three new faces have joined council since that vote took place. Angelo Marignani told CBC News on Thursday he was undecided. Mark McKenzie did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
If the vote passes, Costante said that it's unclear whether the city withdrawing its blessing would halt project entirely.
"Even in the scenario that it doesn't kill the project but delays it, we can't afford to delay this project any more," he said.
In Windsor-Essex, opioid-related deaths hit a record high in 2021, the most recent full year statistics were available.
Eighty-six people people lost their lives, according to the provincial data.