A peer-run overdose prevention site on Nicol Street, deemed a nuisance property by the City of Nanaimo, has shut down.
The Nanaimo Area Network of Drug Users, which operated at 264 Nicol St. since March, said in a statement released Friday, Feb. 3, that it has chosen to end its emergency overdose prevention services.
According to Ann Livingston, NANDU volunteer, the group had been granted $80,000 from the community action initiative to operate. The service had supported more than 200 people daily with “just enough funds to cover basic rental and materials costs and small stipends to volunteers,” noted the statement.
“We’re a drug-user group,” said Livingston. “The budget for running an overdose prevention site is close to a million dollars a year … we covered a gap that obviously existed because we became a place that drug users came to and it was drug users ensuring that other drug users didn’t die. It was all voluntary, no staff, extremely small budget.”
The city deemed the Nicol Street site a nuisance property in January, citing disturbances and noise complaints, but Livingston said property crime and drug use has been occurring before the site opened and there were many misconceptions.
“If you’re running the Unitarian shelter, and someone grabs a bike and rides over to the Unitarian shelter, and just leans a bike against a tree or something, did the Unitarian shelter cause that bike to be stolen?” she asked. “We’ve got hundreds of people coming there and we always welcomed people on the lot.”
The Canadian Mental Health Association announced in December it would be moving its Wesley Street overdose prevention site to a larger facility on Albert and Dunsmuir streets, which Livingston said is a good thing, but added it won’t change attitudes.
“There’s such an upset and hatred towards people who use drugs that are deemed illegal that they just become irrational,” she said. “Out of all the population of Nanaimo, only a few hundred are able to get drugs that aren’t from the black market. That feeds the black market and yet people keep saying, ‘Oh, safe supply, they’re getting free drugs.’ I can tell you, they’re not.”
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said the Nicol Street site’s operations were questionable and deemed it an “amateur operation.”
“They plunked themselves down in a neighbourhood without warning to anybody,” he said. “They never, to my knowledge, produced statistics or information to confirm who they were serving, how often they were serving them, what results were. The level of theft and harassment, vandalism, threats to the neighbours, all of those things.”
NANDU organizers will apply to the community action initiative for further funding and will search for a new site, according to Livingston.
Whether the city would issue another nuisance property designation should NANDU find another location depends, said Krog.
“I don’t have confidence that they can manage that kind of a site appropriately,” said the mayor. “The whole concept of managing the consumption of substances that are dangerous, when we really need the work at the other end of the scale is much more important to me. We need proper treatment, detox … housing, all of those things.”
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