Victoria councillors are lauding an initiative to help those with addiction and mental-health problems, but some are urging the Vancouver Island Health Authority to invest in treatment as well as harm reduction.
In an effort to reach the most vulnerable people, the Access Health Centre on Johnson Street and the Withdrawal Management complex (the Sobering Centre) at Cook and Pembroke streets will expand their services.
The two hubs will offer a needle exchange and activities ranging from addictions counselling and methadone maintenance at the Access Centre to art therapy and peer-support groups at the Cook/Pembroke site.
"I think this model does have a lot of potential to improve the connections with the street and bring them into the system, but we have to make sure there's a way to move them down that continuum [to treatment]," said Coun. Ben Isitt.
Coun. Shellie Gudgeon agreed that more treatment options are needed.
"I hear from people regularly, from youth to middle age, and from life experience, that addicts don't want to be addicts but the opportunities for treatment are just not there, and those that are there are extremely costly," she said.
"We need to have more attention to where those beds can be found and get that information out to the public."
Cheryl Damstetter, VIHA acting executive director for mental-health services, told the Times Colonist editorial board there is little chance that the Johnson Street and Pembroke sites will have a "honeypot" effect, attracting the same kind of street disorder as the former Cormorant Street needle exchange.
"Investments of millions of dollars in addressing street-addiction problems and the different sites means the situation is more normalized than it was three years ago," she said.
Coun. Marianne Alto said the hubs are anchors in buildings that already provide services "relatively calmly, efficiently and successfully."
There was no need to consult the neighbourhood about expanded services at either site, Alto said. "We have moved beyond NIMBY [not in my backyard] for these health services."
A supervised drug-consumption site is not in the works for now, but research is ongoing.
"It's not going to be in the next year, for sure," said Murray Fyfe, VIHA medical health officer.
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