Residents who live near a new overdose prevention site in Duncan say it’s going to be a blight on their neighbourhood.
It’s been a long wait to get an overdose prevention site for Duncan’s drug users but the choice of a small commercial building at the corner of Canada Avenue and Third Street, across the road from the Margaret Moss Health Centre, has caused a furor in the area.
Sharon Jackson, a long-time Duncan councillor, lives nearby, and is finding that her neighbours are just as frustrated as she is about seeing Island Health parachute such a facility into their area.
“People are angry, outraged, blindsided. VIHA, [Island Health], while saying they have done consultation, have, in fact, done no consultation,” she said.
Nearby businesses weren’t even consulted, according to Jackson.
“What happened was somebody went to the businesses and said, ‘Oh, in a week we’re opening this site. Here’s an information piece of paper.’
“And then they left. There’s been no consultation. There are three businesses that are seriously considering leaving, and two of my neighbours are considering leaving. I just got off the phone to a lady up in Nanaimo [at Island Health] where I said, ‘What you have done to this neighbourhood is unforgivable.’
“I have seen people mad for any number of reasons but the level of rage I’m experiencing on the street here is beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. If we have three businesses move, what’s that going to say?”
Jackson was concerned for the quality of life in the inner city residential neighbourhood.
“Third Street is a main thoroughfare for kids that are walking to Khowhemun [Elementary School]. They walk down Third, then through [Centennial] park, up the stairs and through to Khowhemun that way and then home again the same way. They won’t be encountering these people [drug users] early in the morning but they certainly will be in the afternoon. And it’s also a main thoroughfare for people coming through to the park.”
The neighbourhood may be close to the city core, but it is residential, Jackson maintains.
“Apparently, one of the reasons [Island Health] say they chose the site was because it wasn’t in a residential area, and I went berserk. There are lots of young families that live down here and there are lots of seniors with grandchildren down here. People are not only concerned for their safety and for their possessions and stuff but now they don’t want to let their grandkids play in the backyard by themselves. I don’t know who’s going to come through my own back gate,” she said.
Jackson stopped to reiterate that she was speaking for herself as a resident of the neighbourhood.
“I have to make it really clear that I’m not speaking for council on this issue. Council was not in favour of this and what the businesses are telling me is that the police were not in favour of this site. So why VIHA persisted and did it anyway, I don’t understand. It should be closer to the highway, number one, or they should have a mobile site. But sticking it right here is the worst possible thing. But they are determined that they are doing the right thing. What they’ve done is they’ve blighted this whole neighbourhood and people are very, very upset.”
Another Duncan resident who lives near the safe injection site is Verna Barrette.
She said that she’s also frustrated that Island Health didn’t consult with people living in the area, and is worried about the impact on the neighbourhood, and the park. She’s also concerned about the number of needles handed out by the nearby Margaret Moss Health Centre that don’t make it back to the sharps disposal containers.
Someone is being left out in all the talk about keeping drug users safe, she said.
“I don’t want to be NIMBY [not in my back yard] or judgmental about people with addictions because I feel for that but, basically, we’re put on the backburner with this. What about our safety?”
Jackson agreed that neighbours are really feeling left of the loop out by VIHA.
“Nobody is saying they shouldn’t have something like this. Nobody is saying that. But to stick it next to an inner city residential neighbourhood was a very, very bad move,” she said.
And now there are even concerns about pets as well that Jackson is following up.
“People are now frightened to take their dogs for a walk in Centennial Park. And as more of this news gets out, people are going to be afraid to take their kids to Centennial Park, and the fear is we’re going to lose our park.”
As an alternative location, Island Health should have looked for a place on the other side of the highway, or closer to the dike, according to Jackson.
“I know this situation is everywhere. One, is the problem that people can just go get needles and there is no requirement for a needle exchange and problem number two is that they’ve put the overdose clinic on the edge of our neighbourhood. They are expecting people to walk from behind McDonald’s the 10 blocks across town, inject themselves and walk all the way back? Well, they’re not. They’re going to go to the park. At least that is what the fear is.
“Now, the place has only been open for a week. I haven’t heard anything, but people are being extraordinarily cautious. Nobody is leaving their rakes or anything outside. Other people are saying, oh, it’s NIMBY, but it’s not really. You want to put the service where the majority of the problem is. When the City [of Duncan] gets complaints, nine times out of 10 it’s over on the highway so that’s where you put it,” Jackson said.