The City has a responsibility to work through the challenges and ensure that a safe injection site is established in Hamilton.

By Nicole Smith
Published May 07, 2018

Hamilton has been known for some time to be the “epicenter for the opioid crisis in Southern Ontario”, as Ken Durkacz noted in a recent Urbanicity article.

In October 2016, the City surveyed Hamiltonians to find out if there was public support for safe injection sites (SIS). Over 84 percent of residents were supportive of SIS, so the City embarked in early 2017 on a detailed needs assessment and feasibility study. The recommendations included:

1) “Hamilton should implement one integrated supervised injection site located in the area flanked by Queen Street (west), Barton Street (north), Ferguson Ave (east) and Main Street (south);

2) “Additional integrated sites should be considered based on implementation of the first site, monitoring for need, and the interest and willingness of service providers and users to have additional locations.
a. Potential areas to monitor include the East End and Mountain”; and

3) “Geographic areas outside of Hamilton’s downtown core could be serviced with a mobile supervised injection site.”

The study and recommendations were approved by Council in December 2017. By February 2018, the AIDS Network was ready to move forward with Hamilton’s first permanent SIS at its downtown location of 140 King Street East, at Catharine Street South.

It proposed at the same location “a smaller temporary overdose prevention site as a stopgap that would allow supervised injection until the permanent location was approved and operating.”

Then trouble struck. The landlords for the AIDS Network and Wesley Urban Ministries both refused to host the site. The proposal for a mobile SIS trailer had already run into zoning, bylaw, and permit issues, and its feasibility thus became questionable, though people continue to die of opioid overdoses in frightening numbers.

Now the City is discussing the possibility of having a hospital host an SIS. A motion is expected Wednesday, May 9 by Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr.

However, there are good reasons why most SIS are not located in hospitals, the most critical one being accessibility. “Many health care facilities and institutions are seen by many in the drug-using community as inaccessible-partially because of location, but also because of the stigma associated with drug use, addiction and mental health conditions.” In other words, they will be reluctant to go to an SIS in a hospital.

The City cannot force landlords to set aside their personal motivations for one of altruism. However, as someone running for Council, I believe it does have an obligation to represent the 84 percent who support this vital initiative and not just the 16 percent who hesitate, as they keep an eye on the coming election.

The City and its Council need to stand firm. They need to represent. Moreover, having access to media as well the power to amend bylaws, zoning regulations and allocate permits, they have a responsibility. It only stands to reason they should be the ones instrumental in making this happen rather than providing further roadblocks to fully caring for all Hamiltonians in need.

Let us hope that a better, more inclusive solution will emerge soon.

Editor’s Note: Nicole Smith is a registered candidate for Ward 2 in the upcoming October 22, 2018 municipal election. You can see the official list of registered candidates on the City of Hamilton’s Nominated Candidates for Mayor and Ward Councillor web page.

Raise the Hammer has a longstanding policy of not endorsing candidates, and this article should not be regarded as an editorial endorsement of the author. However, all candidates are welcome to submit articles for publication. We will accept any submission that does not violate our submission guidelines. Raise the Hammer is a free, volunteer-run publication that does not charge money for access to content and does not receive any revenue of any kind, including for commercial or political advertising.