Windsor's supervised consumption and treatment site is a step closer to a reality, with health officials announcing a new proposed site in the southwestern Ontario city's downtown.
A lease has been secured for 101 Wyandotte St. E., Nicole Dupuis, chief executive officer of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU), said Monday.
Dupuis said the health unit will move forward quickly with its next steps on the project, which has been in the works since 2019.
She said the health unit would be immediately submitting what's known as an urgent public health need site application to operate the location.
The application allows for a time-limited exemption to drug laws. The health unit is seeking a quicker response to prevent further delay in getting the site set up but will also be submitting a formal application to other levels of government.
"This has been a very lengthy process and a lot has gone into this, and our opioid crisis continues, our rates of opioid overdose and certainly death continue to increase, and so we want to work as quickly as possible." she said.
Dupuis said WECHU intends to move into the site in May and begin work to prepare it.
In January, Windsor city council voted to approve a location at 628 Goyeau St.
Dupuis indicated on Monday that the Goyeau site has fallen through.
"We just weren't able to come to an agreement or terms with that site," she said.
The health unit had also conducted public consultations on the 101 Wyandotte St. E. location, which had been the second option.
"Both sites from the community consultation didn't really differ as far as the result," Dupuis said, adding the Goyeau site was larger, but the Wyandotte site has enough space.
The steps toward establishing a site where people can use drugs and seek help come amid an escalation in the opioid crisis in recent years.
There were 68 opioid-related deaths in Windsor-Essex in 2020, the most recent year provincial statistics were available.
'It's going to save lives'
Lacie Krzemien, a former addictions worker who does volunteer outreach with drug users experiencing homelessness, welcomed the news that progress has been made on setting up the site.
"It's very simple — it's going to save lives ... We're in a crazy poisoned drug supply epidemic here, and all over the world, really, so for our community, it means another resource, a good stepping stone for substance users to get the education, the resources they need at a very dire time," she said.
Krzemien said it's unfortunate it's taken this long to move forward with the site — because with delays come more lives lost — but she acknowledges the process takes time.
"I'm just really excited, whether it took this long or not, it's happening and so that's something we can be really proud of as a community."