Watson asks province to reverse decision to cut injection site funding

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is fighting back against the province after a decision to pull funding of a supervised injection site.

The Ford government announced late Friday the province would only fund three of four safe consumption sites in the capital.

One of Ottawa's busiest locations, 179 Clarence Street would no longer receive provincial funding. The site has received 14, 731 visits in which drugs were consumed, served 513 clients, and handled 132 overdoses since it opened in September 2017.

Watson held an emergency meeting with Ottawa's Chief Medical Officer and the Chair of Ottawa Public Health to discuss the future steps to keep the site operating.

"In the face of an ongoing substance use crisis in Ottawa, and across the province, we suggest that this is a time that provincial support for this service should be expanded, not reduced." Watson said in an open letter addressed Health Minister Christine Elliot.

"We are requesting that you review the Ottawa Public Health application to continue to operate the 179 Clarence St. site, and overturn the decision to immediately terminate funding to this vital service in the City of Ottawa."

Watson told CTV News Monday he expected Ontario's sites would be reviewed, but didn't expect a cut to come to Ottawa.

"Literally a day or two before the fiscal year ended, they announce they're pulling 100% of the funding for this particular site," said Watson.

"That came as a blow to the city."

Watson says a solution to the issue of funding would require all three levels of government to work together, committing to keeping the doors open for the next couple months, but more discussions are needed in terms of a detailed plan to remain operating.

"Not just for a month or two, but the long-term because this problem isn't going away," said Watson. 

"These people need our help right now, we've seen too many lives lost."

"They feel safe there, they have a connection with the staff there," said Ottawa's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vera Etches.

"We can't just close our doors, we have an obligation to make sure they do have a safe place to come."

Chair of Ottawa Public Health Keith Egli says losing even one site will leaving a void in the community.

"If you take one out of play, people are going t be waiting, they're going to get frustrated," said Egli.

"Are they going to keep going or not keep going, and will the staff have the capacity to deal with it?"

Egli says it costs about $92,000 a month to operate 179 Clarence. Ottawa Public Health says the site has an annual budget of $1.2 million.

The Premier defended his decision in Toronto Monday.

"With all due respect, If I put one beside your house, you'd go ballistic," said Ford.

"There's really no reason to have four sites within a kilometre in a neighbourhood."

 

The news comes as Ottawa Police responded to five separate overdose incidents in different parts of the city in a period of 24 hours last week. Three of the overdoses were fatal, and three others remain in hospital for emergency medical treatment. Two men were found dead from suspected overdoses at a property on Hinchy Avenue that same week.

Police say its unclear what caused the deaths but they do suspect cocaine and fentanyl could be at play.

"The timing was more than problematic," said Egli.

"It was very upsetting for us."

Inner City Health, the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, and the Somerset West Community Health Centre had their funding renewed