Windsor city council reaffirms support for downtown drug consumption and treatment site

People rally outside of city council in support of the consumption treatment and services site on Wyandotte Street East.  (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)
People rally outside of city council in support of the consumption treatment and services site on Wyandotte Street East. (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)

After weeks of contention, Windsor city council will continue supporting the supervised drug consumption and treatment site, which could open as soon as next month.

At Monday's meeting, Coun. Fabio Costante put forward a motion asking councillors to reaffirm their support for the project, known as SafePoint, at 101 Wyandotte St. E.

"This is service in our community, I think frankly, should already be here," Costante said.

The motion passed but there was a sharp divide on council, with Mayor Drew Dilkens, Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac, Mark McKenzie and Ed Sleiman voting against it.

A rally took place outside city hall on Monday to push for the site to be opened.

CBC News
CBC News

"We're bringing the community to them to make our voices heard and say we need this now. This is life saving health care and there can be no delays to funding," said Bilal Nasser, one of the organizers of the rally.

Monday's vote came after the health unit reached what was described as a compromise with downtown Windsor Coun. Renaldo Agostino earlier this month.

After he raised concerns over the site location, the health unit approved a resolution to look for another site after this one is opened.

Agostino will lead a group searching for an alternative site after the he pushed for council to rescind an early vote supporting the location.

Once selected, that alternative site would replace the current site.

That resolution also indicated that public health operating funds would be used for the project, pending the approval of provincial funding.

The health unit believes the Wyandotte location could open in March following federal approvals.

At the last city council meeting, Gignac asked administration for a report on what the city's costs of running the treatment centre would be from August to December if provincial funding did not come through for that period.

A report from Andrew Daher, commissioner of human and health services, states that the health unit anticipates that the province will approve funding for the site in July.

If not, the city of Windsor and Essex County would need to cover close to $35,000 per month in costs.

Prior to council passing Costante's motion on Monday, Gignac put forward her own motion calling on council to support a recommendation to move forward with the compromise, but not the financial aspects of the deal.

Gignac said she supports the opening of a site but does not accept the risk if provincial funding does not come through.

"There is no guarantee for the approval," she said.

Dilkens said that it was a "slippery slope and certainly creates a dangerous precedent with respect to funding from the local health unit, to put these costs squarely on the backs of local taxpayers."

Costante said it would be unusual if the funding wasn't granted.

Winsdor-Tecumseh MPP Andrew Dowie said last month that he will "strongly advocate" for health services including the CTS site, known as SafePoint.

Debate comes after high overdose numbers

The Essex County Medical Society supports the consumption site, and in a letter the president Joseph Zakaria states that there were 505 Emergency department visits for opioid and drug overdoses at Windsor Regional Hospital and Erie Shores Health Care for 2021.

That's 44 per cent higher than 2020, when there were 351 visits, according to the medical society.

Marion Overholt of Legal Assistance of Windsor has also sent a letter to city council supporting the site.