In an emotional appeal to his fellow councillors, Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre urged them to support a motion to provide operational costs in the amount of $1.1 million per year for a temporary supervised injection site.
On June 15, council settled on the Energy Court location to set up a supervised consumption urgent needs site. Council also committed to providing no more than $800,000 for setup costs.
Federal and provincial funding is not available for a temporary supervised consumption site, therefore, Réseau ACCESS Network was asked to submit a draft budget based on working knowledge of other sites in Ontario.
“We have to look at the bigger picture,” said Lapierre, tearful as he talked. “We have spent tens of millions of dollars on COVID-19, and we have had 31 deaths in our health jurisdiction. In 2019 and 2020, there were more than 160 fatalities due to opioids. We’re asking for a million dollars for a couple of years to try to reduce that. This is a three-year cost for us, and I as a councillor, as a resident, am willing to eat that.”
Lapierre has more than two decades of experience as a front-line paramedic. He is also the co-ordinator for College Boreal’s Soins Paramedicaux program. He said his colleagues out in the field are continuously having to tell family members of overdose victims that their loved one has died.
“I don’t want them to have to tell another mother that their son is dead,” Lapierre said. “It is so hard to do.”
It took very little convincing, if any at all, as council unanimously supported the motion to provide $1.1 million per year in operating costs for three years, with the proviso that an update be presented to council in advance of the 2022 budget with regard to the application process for funding and funding alternatives for a three-year period.
Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh said in March of this year, council committed funding in the 2021 budget towards supportive transitional housing, which will cost about $2 million a year to operate.
“We have not yet secured that funding,” she said. “We have had no word from the province yet on this much-needed transitional housing in the community.
McIntosh said staff came to council last week with a projected 3.6-per-cent budget increase for 2022. We directed them to find an additional 1.8 million in operational savings to get us down to a three-per-cent increase.
Then, on June 15, council received an update on the supervised consumption site property review, and committed to providing municipal land and $800,000 in one-time setup costs.
The city is currently in 58 lines of service to the community, and health care is not one of them, she said.
“This is an important initiative, and I support the assistance we approved on June 15, but it’s not fair to the municipality and its residents to be expected to carry the operating costs of what is essentially a provincial responsibility,” McIntosh said. “This is out of our wheelhouse, and I don’t think we should let the province off the hook. This is their responsibility.”