North Cowichan is looking to have the controversial overdose prevention site on York Road moved.
Council decided at a recent meeting to have Mayor Rob Douglas send a letter to Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.’s minister of Mental Health and Addictions, stressing the municipality’s serious concerns with the location of the OPS at 5878 York Rd. and its close proximity to a number of schools.
Douglas, who raised the issue of writing the letter with council, said he would state to Whiteside that North Cowichan is eager to work with her ministry to find a more suitable location for the OPS.
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“I’d also like to convey to the minister that, in the meantime, we’d like to see the operating hours of the OPS extended beyond 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. which would not only save lives, but also help reduce some of the loitering around the facility in the early hours of the morning, which is contributing to the street disorder in that area,” Douglas said.
“I’ve discussed this idea to both the mayor of Duncan [Michelle Staples] and the chair of the school board [Cathy Schmidt] and they’ve indicated interest in co-signing the letter.”
The OPS opened in June, 2021, at its current location as part of Island Health’s new Wellness and Recovery Centre that provides a range of services to support people living with addiction and mental health concerns, including overdose prevention services.
The region’s OPS, which had operated in locations on Canada Avenue and Trunk Road before moving to York Road has had thousands of visits and zero deaths since first being introduced in the community in 2017.
But neighbours of all three sites have complained of thefts and trespass on their properties, overnight vagrancy, loitering, trash and needle littering, and loud and lewd aggressive behaviour on the streets, all related to the OPS.
In a statement in September, 2020, when Island Health was considering York Road as a location for the OPS, James Hanson, the health authority’s vice president of clinical operations for central and north Vancouver Island, made it clear that the centre would be placed on York Road, despite the concerns in the community.
“This process was ongoing for over a year, involved extensive discussions with Island Health’s capital planning team, a local real estate agent, owners of publicly-owned properties at both the provincial and local level, and a public Request for Proposal seeking space,” Hanson said at the time.
“This extensive search resulted in only one site option emerging: 5878 York Rd. Given the dual public health emergencies of the opioid crisis and COVID-19, and this location being very accessible to clients, Island Health entered into a lease agreement. Extensive consultation involving multiple potential site options would have been optimal. However, in this case, there was only one site available.”