Overdose prevention site in Yaletown green lit by Vancouver council
VANCOUVER -- A contentious permanent overdose prevention site in Vancouver's Yaletown neighbourhood is being green lit after weeks of delays and debate in council.
The approved site is at Seymour and Helmcken streets.
There has been in-fighting among council members since the proposal was first made, as well as 11th-hour changes to the application and frustration from residents – including the suggestion there's been a lack of public consultation.
The permanent overdose prevention site has been divisive. It will be set up across the street from Emery Barnes Park.
Vancouver Coastal Health is leasing this property from the city, and operating the site alongside Raincity Housing.
Dozens of local residents protested against the location over the weekend, citing concerns about drug use, discarded needles and overall safety.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart says he lives just minutes away from the site, adding he’s heard people’s worries and believes the facility will improve the situation.
“I understand their concerns but this overdose prevention site should actually make things better,” he told CTV News. “Once it’s moved inside, I think it will be better both for the lives we’re trying to save and the community.”
A mobile OPS unit is parked outside the building and has been for a while.
The Vancouver Police Department, which answered questions at Tuesday's council meeting, says putting a permanent overdose prevention location across from the park was not its preference.
Staff are still looking into how many people can use the site at one time, especially under COVID-19 rules, but a VPD inspector told council there are 50 to 80 people who attend the mobile site at that location daily.
The four councillors who voted against the motion also questioned whether the location was the best option. They wanted staff to look into exploring other options, but were defeated.
Sarah Blyth with Overdose Prevention Society, which operates a safe injection site in the Downtown Eastside, says from her experience, when sites open up in neighbourhoods, the community sees benefits.
“For one, we pick up hundreds of needles every day just by having people come in and use on site, and people don’t have to be on the street and use in a doorway,” Blyth said.
The latest stats show 127 British Columbians died in September from a drug overdose.
Blyth said more overdose prevention sites can address the opioid crisis.
“I think it’s time to spread it in different communities and save lives and actually do more to save lives than we have been,” she said.
Councillors say this has come down to an urgent need for action, but they want to remain flexible in dealing with the overdose crisis.
And as part of this vote, council is also looking to deploy a number of mobile overdose prevention vans to cover the city more broadly.
With a report from CTV News Vancouver's Allison Hurst in Yaletown