The Real (Estate) Issue for Injection Site Wasn’t Location or NIMBYism

By Jay Menard

This past week, we saw a lot debate around the preferred location of a safe injection site that revolved around location, city building, convenience, and time, but that failed to address the primary need — that of the users who need support and resources.

Add to that facile Tweets, misinformation, and unrealistic timeframes for pseudo-public participation, and you had an environment that was custom-built to encourage failure.

The debate about a location for the safe injection site shouldn’t have been about NIMBYism. But, in many cases, that’s what it devolved into. For those who are quick to cast aspersions on-line, it’s an easier narrative. It’s also a false one — and the fact of the matter is that location is only at the surface of the challenge.

We need to ensure we look at the facts, not just a map, to deliver the best solution for those who need it most.

Unfortunately, it appears we were being rushed into a decision — and panic brought out the worst. I saw a lot of ugly behaviour last week — and few were focusing on the only question that truly matters: “What’s best for the people who need this service?”

Compounding the issue was a recent (and facile) Tweet by our city’s Dr. Chris Mackie, asking which of two is the preferred location for a safe injection site. Some took the bait and replied.

The thing is that the response isn’t so black and white. And there are so many more factors that get ignored in a simple A or B tweet. On a downtown-building level, it’s easy to take a superficial look at the locations and say that the 120 York St. location didn’t make sense. But on a “what’s best for the actual users” level it was impossible to say that 372 York is the right choice.

Every time I read someone say that 372 York was the clear choice, I shuddered. Because it’s clear that what was motivating that statement was everything but the needs of the users of the injection site. Because 372 York could not deliver what was promised.

During the initial discussions about a supervised injection site, many got on board with the idea of a full-service approach to addiction. Yes, people would come here to use drugs safely, but they would also have access to resources and supports if they want to transition off. If they want to talk to nurses and doctors, they’d be there.

Well, those wouldn’t have been there at 372 York St. In fact, there was barely enough room to have the site. It would be nothing more than a clean injection site — which is fine, but it’s not what is needed. Nor is it what’s promised. And there’s little money to expand, so we were told at the Monday, Apr. 9th meeting.

But, going back to Mackie’s Tweet, those truths weren’t present. It was all about location, location, location — and that’s where NIMBYism (and false accusations thereof) are bred.

After all, why let facts and the end user’s actual needs be part of the equation. Let’s reduce it all to location.

That’s not saying I was advocating for 120 York either. Structurally, it was a better building, but I appreciate that that are concerns — both real and perceived — about having the facility at that corner. It checks a lot of boxes — not the least is that Regional HIV/AIDS Connection needs a new home and could continue the amazing work they’re currently doing with the temporary site, at a facility such as the one presenting at 120 York.

Sadly, during that Monday meeting regarding the 120 York St. location, some participants suggested that there were absolutely no positives about that location. And that’s an abhorrent view to take that reeks of NIMBYism. It’s clear that 120 would offers a variety of benefits that would help the situation. It’s just in an “inconvenient” location for some.

To say that there are “no benefits” suggests that a facility that offers multiple supports for an at-risk population isn’t a benefit. I don’t believe that, but — and disappointingly in my view — others were very quick to suggest that there were “no benefits”  to the location.

Economics? Perception? All more of a priority that the users’ needs.

Of course, the report to council had already been submitted before that meeting — so why were we there again?

“There is every opportunity to tighten the recommendation based on public input. Looking forward to it,” Mackie said in a Tweet reply to me. But that was then followed by, “Deadline for the report was 9 am Monday – yes, was submitted prior to the input, and we’ll be adding the input to the presentation/delegation. On the options, love to find better, but we’re really up against the wall for timing. Need a lease and a site plan in place by Monday.”

A recent London Free Press’ article began, “For nearly five years, the area’s medical officer of health has carefully plotted a course to build a supervised drug injection site in London,” Yet it comes down to hurried public “discussions” that, by all appearances, will have no impact on the site. It came down to two choices — neither of which is ideal but one of which is woefully lacking in what is needed.

Of course, all of this was rendered moot. On Thursday, Apr. 19th, Dr. Mackie told the attendees of a public meeting regarding the 372 York St. location that it was all off the table. Sadly, that was the end of the meeting and an opportunity was lost to engage with a group that could have been educated by the health unit and presented their concerns. 

Time may be of the essence, but are we merely looking for a solution or the “right” solution

The refrain I’ve heard a few times is that there are many landlords who don’t want to welcome a tenant like a supervised injection site (or, shockingly, the London Regional HIV/AIDS Connection — I thought we were past that fear…) But if we’re willing to purchase or appropriate land for a BRT system, we should be willing to purchase or appropriate land for a valuable system that will save lives, right? There must be options.

Despite the old real estate adage, it’s not all about location, location, location. What it should be about is finding the best solution that offers people a legitimate chance to break the cycle of addiction. This is a PERMANENT site — so a stop-gap, good-enough-for-now measure won’t cut it.

Time may be of the essence, but the health unit needs buy-in. It needs to get the support of the neighbourhoods by inclusion, honesty, and open discussion. It doesn’t need supercilious tweets. I think few peoples’ minds are actually closed — but the discussion wasn’t framed the right way, in part due to some self-inflicted wounds. We all want what’s best for the users, but this can’t be a discussion solely about location. Yet that’s where we’re at.

Despite the fear mongering, a delay in federal approval isn’t the worst-case scenario. Implementing a solution that doesn’t meet the needs of its users and the goals of the project is.

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