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Councillor says Yaletown overdose prevention site will be moved, citing ‘safety issues’

A life-saving service for people who use drugs continues to be a source of controversy for residents of a Vancouver neighbourhood and one local politician is saying the overdose prevention site should and will be moved.

Two years ago, an Overdose Prevention Site was opened at 1100 Seymour St., providing on-site monitoring of people using drugs as part of a response to a crisis that has seen thousands of British Columbians die from the toxic, illicit supply.

Coun. Peter Meiszner says he is in favour of seeing the site moved somewhere else, citing issues raised by residents.

"There's been some concern from residents about things like discarded needles on the sidewalk, some of the structures that have been set up and also just some of the interactions with people who have been congregating, they've felt threatened,” Meiszner said.

The decision to open the site came in 2020, after an OPS worker was fatally stabbed while working at St. Paul's Hospital, where a temporary site was operating at the time. In March of 2021, the doors opened in spite of the objections of some residents and local politicians.

"I do think that there would probably be a more appropriate place for it,” said Meiszner, who added that he believes the location is too small for the needs of the OPS.

"There's no interior room for people to wait, so that’s why you're seeing people queuing outside. Then, after someone uses the site, there's not really an area for people to go for refuge, to sit. So people tend to sit on the sidewalks."

According to the city, there have been 52 calls to 311 so far this year reporting "various matters" related to the site. Some examples include requests for graffiti removal, damage to city property and abandoned items.

According to Vancouver police, they've received 490 calls for service on the block where the OPS is located in 2023. That represents an increase when compared to the same time period in 2020 and 2021. However, data on what those calls were about and how many were specifically related to the OPS were not available.

Guy Felicella, a peer clinical advisor with the B.C. Centre of Substance Use says debating the location of the OPS is a distraction from the larger issues of the overlapping and dire crises of homelessness and toxic drugs.

"What are we asking for here? Are we asking that we just don't see it and we just move it to another area or are we asking to actually address the issue?” said Felicella.

"The reality is, let’s put pressure on the people that can build housing and infrastructure so that people don't have to stay there, because I can tell you this, nobody wants to be in that place sleeping there overnight. They just don't."

There are 12 different overdose prevention sites in Vancouver. All but two of them are in the Downtown Eastside.

"There's a lot of people who don't like to go into the Downtown Eastside to use these facilities,” Felicella said. “If you move that OPS, people can die – and that's the tragedy behind it.”

The building is leased by the city to the organization that operates the OPS, but Vancouver Coastal Health oversees the city’s overdose prevention sites.

The health authority told CTV News it recently organized meetings between tenants in the building to address concerns. A spokeperson also said they have organized regular needle pick-ups and that communication with city officials about any concerns regarding the space is ongoing.

Meiszner says the site will be relocated, but that won’t happen for at least a year. Top Stories

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