By: Larry Newman
The Neighbours of St. Albans first made the news by their vigorous objection to St. Alban’s 2011 decision to move its drop-in centre from Murray Street to the basement of the church. Currently, they are asking for support in their fight against the establishment of a Supervised Injection Site (SIS) at Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. To this end, they held a meeting to rally support for this cause.
Nearly 50 people attended the meeting on March 6 at the Rideau Street Days Inn. The Neighbours’ secretary, Keith Nuttall, opened the meeting by stating that the Neighbours was an organization formed to “give a voice to Northwest Sandy Hill when they need it.” He reported that, at an April meeting of their group, an overwhelming number of the members voiced their objections to the SIS.
Mr. Nuttall began by repeating the themes on the flyer that was used to advertise the meeting. Specifically, the Neighbours were afraid that a SIS in Sandy Hill would cause the following problems:
- More drug dealers on our streets selling to addicts using the Centre.
- Police prevented from arresting these pushers.
- Violent crime and shootings as drug gangs fight for territory.
- Addicts hanging around the Centre and the surrounding streets.
- “We have no objection to a SIS but Sandy Hill is not the place for it.” Mr. Nuttall makes the point that this area has Centre 454, the Mission, Salvation Army, and Shepherds of Good Hope. He says that this concentrates the addicts in our neighbourhood. The SIS is just one more attraction for them and the dealers.
- “We deal with more crime than any other area in Ottawa.” In the three months between September and December 2016, Mr. Nuttall noted there were 85 assaults, 5 sexual offenses, and many other crimes.
Mr. Nuttall’s other message was that this was not a productive way to spend $1.4 million. Other attendees made the same point. Better to spend it on prevention and treatment.
Councillor Mathieu Fleury identified himself as our councillor and a member of the City’s Public Health Board. He then spoke about the City’s experience. He did not advocate or criticize the SIS but noted that the City’s policy has changed from supporting relatively long-term housing for homeless people. Now, the accent is on providing housing, but using shelters for short-term, emergency housing until long-term housing can be found.
Constable Brad Burleau’s first statement was, “The official policy of the Ottawa Police Services is not to support the establishment of a SIS in Sandy Hill.” This was greeted with applause. He did say that the OPS will work with SHCHC to deal with safety around the facility. He asked for a Security Plan from Rob Boyd, Director of the Oasis Program at the SHCHC, who was there to speak about the SIS.
Constable Burleau was not optimistic about solving the drug problem in Ottawa. He said, “We are losing the drug game. All we have done so far is to move dealers from one place to another.” In answering a question from the floor about what the OPS will do to keep Sandy Hill residents safe, he said that when the SIS is in operation, the OPS will reallocate personnel to cover Sandy Hill. He also noted that the OPS will be hiring 25 more officers this year. He did not say whether this would add police strength or replace normal attrition.
Rob Boyd, who is the Director of the OASIS Program at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, came to answer questions. OASIS is the program that will manage the SIS. Not unexpectedly, he spoke in support of the SIS and mentioned that “Somerset West is offering their first consultation tonight,” implying that Sandy Hill won’t be the only go-to location for safe injection in Ottawa. He addressed security at the SHCHC by describing a “mobile greeter” who will be in regular cell phone contact with SIS management staff and will be outside, monitoring access to the building. The phone number will be on the SHCHC web site.
People who deal drugs will not be allowed on the site, nor will drugs be used anywhere but inside and overseen by supervision. Mr Boyd made the point that the community of people who treat addiction support the SIS wholeheartedly. In support of the need for Supervised Injection Sites, he made the prediction that there will be a spike in overdose deaths due to the use of fentanyl, an extremely powerful drug, much more than heroin.
There were many questions and comments from the audience. Chad Rollins, President of Action Sandy Hill was in the audience and spoke. He made the point that ASH is “a voice for all of Sandy Hill.” He revealed the experiences that he has had personally with drug users near his house. He also noted that ASH had surveyed its members and determined that the majority expressed support for the SIS.
The audience reaction to the SIS was almost exclusively negative. People were afraid of crime; many thought that the $1.4 million should be spent on treatment. However, it might be too late for them to influence the establishment of the SIS. The City and the police have already announced their support for the Ottawa Public Health office which in turn supports Supervised Injection Sites in the city.
Walking out, I fell in with a couple of people and we talked about the meeting. One said, “I like the idea of the SIS. With the prevalence of drugs now, and if one of our kids should become addicted, there’s a safe place for them to go.” I rate that a positive.