Concerns that the Pembroke Street Sobering and Assessment Centre is being turned into a fixed needle exchange that might eventually become a supervised-injection site are being raised by some Fernwood residents.
“It’s 300 metres to George Jay [Elementary] school. It’s just ridiculous. It shouldn’t even be considered whatsoever,” Creole Carmichael, a 30-year resident of the neighbourhood, said of the plans to expand the distribution of needles and crack pipes and supplies from the centre.
“People are going to get these needles — and where are they going to go shoot up? They’re going to go right to the playground at the school, where there’s nobody around all night. So at the playground of the school, there’s going to be needles everywhere.”
Carmichael has written Premier Christy Clark asking for legislation outlawing needle exchanges and safe-injection sites within a kilometre or two of a public school.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority-run facility at Cook and Pembroke streets, formerly a youth detention centre, has been used by VIHA for more than a decade — first as a detox facility and now as a sobering and assessment centre.
Up until now, the centre has offered overnight shelter and assessment of people who arrive inebriated. It has about 17 beds for stays up to 30 days for people who are drying out.
It also has run a daily Recovery Addictions Support day program that offers daily psycho-educational groups and other therapies from the centre.
VIHA has announced plans to expand and enhance harm-reduction activities at the centre as part of its effort to reach out to the 100 most vulnerable people in downtown Victoria.
In April, the centre’s hours are to be extended into evenings and weekends, and the existing limited distribution of harm-reduction supplies will be expanded. More addiction counselling, peer support groups, aboriginal services and other therapies are to be offered.
When the plans were announced, Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto, a member of the group co-ordinating the initiative, said there was no need for a formal neighbourhood consultation process about the plans.
Distribution of harm-reduction supplies and provision of services are a health matter, she said, and not up for debate.
“It’s really important to situate this in saying we have moved beyond ‘;Not in My Back Yard,’ ” Alto said. “We have moved to this as health service. It’s just like going to the ER.”
That’s an all-too-familiar tune to some in the neighbourhood.
“That’s what they told us about the sobering centre and the detox,” Carmichael said.
“It just went through. They said they don’t need to consult with the community — it’s a public health centre. Now they’re doing the same thing again. It’s déjà vu.”
Alto now has assured Fernwood Community Association that neighbourhood discussions will be held before the changes are made, president Tony Sprackett said.
Take Back Fernwood, a Facebook page started by Carmichael, argues that Victoria city council should withdraw its support for the idea until a proper consultation has been held.
But some neighbourhood residents are not worried.
Erik Kaye, in a post on the Facebook page, said he strongly supports the planned changes.
“We need more support for people struggling with drug addiction. … I walk by that corner several times a week and I have never experienced any problems,” Kaye said.
Carmichael disagrees and said the neighbourhood has endured increased vandalism and other problems since the sobering centre was established.
“We’ve had half-naked people in our yard and all kinds of problems,” she said. “People pass out on the boulevards. There’s people out there urinating all the time. We never used to have problems like that when it was a youth custody centre.
“It shouldn’t even be a question around a school.” email@example.com
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