Victoria councillor Marianne Alto.

Support growing for supervised injection sites

When Marianne Alto walked into a public hearing regarding supervised injection sites, she was surprised by what she heard.

When Marianne Alto walked into a public hearing at City Hall regarding the proposed supervised injection sites, she was surprised by what she heard.

A number of residents expressed support last week for the supervised injection sites that many are seeing as a new tool to help reduce the number of overdose deaths on Vancouver Island.

“Remarkably, the majority of people were very supportive, and I’ll confess, it was a surprise to me,” said Alto, a city councillor.

“In the last 19 months to two years, the situation has become so dire that people have moved from resistance to this as one solution to an acceptance of the fact that this is a solution that’s needed.”

Earlier this month, Island Health announced its plan to establish three supervised injection sites in Victoria — two public sites at 941 Pandora Ave. and at 2920 Bridge St. in Rock Bay, along with a third private site at the former Central Care Home on Johnson Street, which was set up to house former residents of tent city this summer.

As part of two drop-in public meetings last week, roughly 150 residents and local business owners showed up to learn more about the project and voice their opinions, both for and against it.

Residents asked what Alto called  “practical” questions, surrounding how the injection site would work, security, hours of operation and number of staff on site.

The issue of overdose deaths has plagued the province for months and Victoria is not immune. There have been dozens of overdose deaths in Victoria, five of which came in the last week, which prompted Island Heath’s chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick to issue a public warning when consuming illicit drugs.

It’s an issue Stanwick believes the people of Victoria are quickly coming to grips with and are beginning to realize a solution is needed.

“These events are occurring. It’s a matter of us getting something up and running,” Stanwick said. “There’s a bit of a sense of urgency of are we rushing through this a little faster than we would normally like, but people are dying and people are overdosing.”

He noted some residents expressed concern about turning parts of the community into unsafe places and questioned if Island Health could replicate the success of Insite, the country’s only supervised injection site located in Vancouver. Stanwick said Island Health has experience opening new services and balancing the needs of the community, with its sobering centre on Pembroke Street in Victoria, which was met with similar concerns.

Island Health will submit a proposal to Health Canada in the next few months for approval.

Feedback on the proposed sites can still be provided by email at scs@viha.ca or through an online survey at viha.ca/scs until Dec. 2.