NANAIMO — Council has told staff to do nothing about an unsanctioned pop-up safe-drug consumption site in the parking lot at city hall.
After nearly two hours of sometimes heated debate on Monday night, council passed a motion directing staff to take no further action on the site, dubbed Onsite, until a sanctioned location can be created by Island Health.
Only Coun. Ian Thorpe opposed taking no action.
"I have no doubt that the people involved in this pop-up site have great intentions and they have drawn attention to a very serious problem," said Thorpe. "I can not support it because the site which has popped-up is unauthorized, it is unregulated and federally it is illegal...I cannot support this operation as it stands."
Coun. Jerry Hong raised concerns about the costs related to keeping the site at city hall and asked why it couldn't be moved to a more appropriate location. A staff report shows the city is spending $357 per day for security guards to be stationed near the two city buildings, as well as $200 a week for a portable toilet.
"It's a fear based NIMBY (not in my back yard)," said Coun. Jim Kipp. "How will we expect anybody else in our community to accept this now that this council has accepted what it's done...security has been a deterrent to the people showing up. It's an embarrassing situation for them."
"What the city has done by bringing in security has inflamed the misconception of these people causing problems," said Coun. Gord Fuller.
Tracy Samra, the city's chief administrative officer, admonished council for several minutes about the difficult position the city was put in. She told council that rather than pressure Island Health to get something official up and running, the creation of the pop-up site "put the discourse on the city."
"It doesn't go to do we need it, is it the right thing, are these good people, are these bad people. It's the reality of running a city and it's the reality of running a city property and it's the reality of having 700 employees who we also owe duties to," said Samra.
Samra says the city's actions have been measured, including not proceeding with an injunction and not forcing the RCMP to step in. She says there was "no intention to fear monger" by putting up signage and hiring extra security.
Other options for dealing with Onsite presented in a staff report to council included endorsing the site subject to Island Health approval or telling staff to take steps to have it removed.
Meanwhile, it appears there is some progress from the health authority's perspective. Medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback tells NanaimoNewsNOW that Island Health has identified their current Mental Health and Addiction Services building at 526 Wentworth Street as the location for an interim overdose-prevention site.
Hasselback says it's hoped the building, sanctioned under a December ministerial order, will be operating by the end of January. He cautioned it could be up to six weeks.
In the interim, Hasselback has committed to continuing to visit the pop-up site, as well as the provision of supplies.
"This is not sanctioning the site," Hasselback told council on Monday. "It is to reduce the risk to users, to the persons who are volunteering at the site and to the land owner, in this case the city."
Fuller says they have seen over 140 consumptions at the city hall pop-up with no overdoses to date. Since opening on Dec. 26, the facility has been upgraded from an open tent to a trailer.