Dee Klein, who has owned property and operated businesses for more than 40 years in the Old City Quarter, was one of a number of merchants and residents in the area who expressed their opposition to a permanent supervised consumption site on Wesley Street at a city rezoning bylaw public hearing Monday. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

Dee Klein, who has owned property and operated businesses for more than 40 years in the Old City Quarter, was one of a number of merchants and residents in the area who expressed their opposition to a permanent supervised consumption site on Wesley Street at a city rezoning bylaw public hearing Monday. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

Community isn’t sold on safe-consumption site

City of Nanaimo holds public hearing on rezoning bylaw for permanent supervised drug consumption

Nanaimo has got drug problems, and they were discussed openly this week.

The City of Nanaimo held a public hearing Monday night regarding a rezoning bylaw that would allow the temporary supervised-drug-consumption site at 437 Wesley St. to become a permanent location for the service. Following the hearing, councillors voted against allowing the bylaw to pass third reading.

About a dozen people spoke at the hearing, held in the Vancouver Island Conference Centre’s Shaw Auditorium. Nearly all were opposed to the bylaw, arguing that crime and other problems stemming from drug use are already increasingly visible in the neighbourhood.

Dr. Paul Hasselback, Island Health’s chief medical health officer for central Vancouver Island, said making the temporary supervised-consumption site permanent would be a “maturation” for the facility and allow for more provision of services and treatment options.

“Clearly [Wesley Street] is the best option that’s been put forward by the team that is looking at where should the site go,” he said. “There is no perfect site.”

Business owners said past efforts to beautify Wesley Street are being undone by drug users.

“This whole situation has taken us back over 20 years. We’re starting all over again…” said Wes Strickland, a local business owner. “[With] what we’re dealing with – the defecation, the urination, the people being assaulted – we’re constantly having to call the RCMP. We actually have them on a speed dial to come down to our restaurant.”

Another business owner, Dee Klein, also opposed the permanent safe-consumption site, pointing to increased homelessness, crime and discarded syringes in the area, and said she doesn’t think anything else should be “inflicted” on the neighbourhood’s stakeholders and taxpayers.

“It can’t turn into an east end,” she said.

Representatives from three different neighbourhood associations spoke against the rezoning bylaw. Eric McLean, president of the Old City Quarter Association, wants more evidence that proposed measures such as enhanced security, more bylaw enforcement and policing, and cleanup efforts are working. Sydney Robertson of the South End Community Association made similar requests and asked for decentralization of social services. Tereza Bajan, a director with the Neighbours of Nob Hill Society, said there needs to be more public consultation before any decision is made.

“It seems like the politicians and the addicts are all looking for a quick fix on this serious problem,” she said.

One of the only voices in favour of the permanent supervised-consumption site was Jody Sawchyn, a local nurse who said the service enables health-care providers to develop relationships and trust with drug users to help them work toward goals of treatment and recovery.

Coun. Gord Fuller said the city needs to look beyond just 437 Wesley St.

“My personal belief is not only should Wesley have an overdose protection of safe injection, Uplands should, Boundary should, other supportive housing facilities should and every walk-in clinic should have the capacity to allow people to come in and use safely on their sites,” he said.

Coun. Bill Yoachim said the B.C. government has downloaded overdose response on communities and he hopes for more help from the province moving forward. He said he liked the idea of mobile pop-up supervised consumption in different parts of Nanaimo.

McLean acknowledged that supervised consumption is a not-in-my-backyard issue.

“Everyone is a NIMBY … We all are,” he said. “I haven’t seen anyone raise their hand to say ‘I want it next door to me.’”

greg.sakaki@nanaimobulletin.com