The City of Victoria is getting the ball rolling to apply for a supervised drug consumption site in the downtown core but the project is still a long way off, says Coun. Marianne Alto.
In October during last year’s municipal election, Alto said she expects the city to make an application within six months, followed by a year of advocacy and organization.
Fast forward seven months and they are still in the early stages of the process.
Alto said the city is committed to bringing together Island Health, the Victoria Police Department and Yes2 Supervised Consumption Site (YES2SCS) to talk about what the site could look like and hopes to meet in the next few months and have a plan ready by the fall.
“The city’s role is the commitment to bring these people to the table and map out how we proceed,” said Alto. “That commitment has been made in the strategic plan. The next steps are to bring the folks to the table.”
Suzanne Germain, spokesperson for Island Health, said they are “absolutely” open to the idea of coming to the table.
“Island Health has long recognized in our long-term mental health and substance use plan that supervised consumption sites could play a role in harm reduction,” she said.
Germain noted that they could potentially be involved with the project in many ways such as owning, operating and running the site, funding it or lending expertise, though nothing has been determined yet.
Chief Const. Frank Elsner with the Victoria Police Department said they are in support of a potential supervised drug consumption site.
“We’re interested in anything that has to do with harm reduction. We’re absolutely open to the idea,” he said. “Our only caveat is that anytime there is a safe consumption site, that there is treatment as part of the solution.”
He noted that the department would play a limited role and would mainly work with
partners to ensure the neighbourhood remains safe.
“The devil’s is in the details and we want to make sure that whatever is contemplated is well thought through and it’s something that is beneficial to our community,” added Elsner.
While the project has early support, it is a long process before it can get approved.
The province has set a process for how to create an application for a supervised consumption site, which includes community consultation, and planning and collaboration to sort out a funding model, support systems, location and oversight.
But ultimately, it is the federal government who can give the project the go-ahead.
“It’s time for us to explore what this would look like,” said Alto.“Supervised consumption is not a stand alone service, it exists with a continuum of health services. If you look at InSite [in Vancouver] for example, it’s not just a place where you go and shoot up. You have nursing care and supervision, opportunities for detox programs, and different types of support. It’s a service that’s embedded within other complementary services.”
Though Alto wouldn’t speculate on a potential timeline or what it could look like, she hopes it will be unique to Victoria’s needs.