Interior Health has postponed the opening of a safe inhalation site around the Nelson Friendship Outreach Clubhouse in Nelson, but despite strong opposition they are still planning to go ahead at a later date.
Executive director Landon DeBest says they have discussed the location with the community and city council, but the clubhouse best meets the requirements of those in medical need.
“The provincial health authority has a responsibility to provide to all members of the community,” he says. “The option of providing these services at the clubhouse site is one we explored in response to a high number of toxic drug related deaths in the community.
“We endeavor to implement strategies that balance that obligation of saving lives as well as being a socially responsible neighbour.”
He says Interior Health has sought community input and will continue to take feedback into suitable locations for a new site, but until an alternate site is chosen it will have to be at the one chosen.
“We’ve asked members of the community and city council to support us in identifying an alternate location,” DeBest says. “To date there hasn’t been one provided that meets the three requirements. It is by process of elimination that the current choice is identified as the best option.”
DeBest says the top three criteria Interior Health follows for identifying a new location are accessibility for people who need the service, access to power and having a bathroom.
DeBest says he is aware how some residents feel about the location, and they met with several members of the community to determine what Interior Health need to do to make residents feel safe.
“We had a meeting back in January with members of the community around the clubhouse and they provided feedback on elements that needed to be improved,” he says. “Residents asked for signage, lighting, cameras, improvements to the front porch and a request for a 24/7 presence to help people move off the property.
“Some of those are complete, but some are still in process.”
He says working with the community to make people feel safe is at the top of their list, but it is not an easy balance to achieve.
“The health authority has a responsibility to manage its property and that is the challenge we are facing,” he says. “The complexity extends far beyond what health can offer. This requires a broad representation of community groups, government partners, health authority, emergency services to identify options which will support people.
“We can’t compel people to accept treatment or change their behavior,” he says. “We appreciate it is not a desirable situation to come across with having feces on the street.”
According to the Nelson Concerned Community Group, more facilities need to be included in the region before residents feel safe which is why they are asking Interior Health to keep offices in Trail, Castlegar, and Grand Forks open.
DeBest says despite having some services in those areas already it is impossible for them to keep them in those regions to help the situation currently unfolding in Nelson.
“There are services for mental health and addictions throughout the region, including the Boundary,” he says. “The services are similar, but we don’t have the ability to manage or control where people go and support wherever these people choose to be.”
He says community concerns regarding safety, security and a general sense of well-being are on a decline when substance users have access to services they need.
“There is good evidence showing behaviour are reduced when we have services in place,” he says. “I don’t think there has been a want, or intent, to cause distress to anybody. The want is to provide services to everyone who needs it.”
Interior Health has not release a date for when the site will be installed but says they will continue to take public feedback, and suggestions, for a possible new location.