SafePoint operations on pause as of Jan 1: Windsor-Essex County Health Unit board of directors

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The Windsor Essex County Health Unit board of directors has voted to pause operations at the SafePoint consumption and treatment site in Windsor as of the end of 2023 due to a lack of funding.

Monday's decision comes after the province announced in early October that the government was pausing approval of new supervised consumption and treatment sites due to an ongoing review.

The province launched a "critical incident review" in the summer after a 44-year-old mother of two was killed by a stray bullet near a consumption site in Toronto's east end following a physical altercation between three men.

The local health unit's application was submitted in July 2022 but the provincial pause on any approvals left the Windsor site without sustainable, long-term funding.

The health unit has been funding the site while waiting for provincial approval, a step that was budgeted for as part of the application process.

Windsor City Councillor Fabio Costante, chair of the health unit board of directors, says this unpredictable disruption left the health unit in a position of having to fund the site through its base budget by reducing some critical programs or to drastically increase funding requests to the municipalities to support the site.

"That obligates municipal taxpayers to take a funding model which is established to be squarely and within the purview of the province," he says.

The pause will take effect as of Jan. 1, 2024.

Costante says it was an extremely difficult decision for the board.

"Especially knowing that month after month, after month, the numbers were higher than the month prior. Usage was going up, we were helping people, the evidence of the site being open for six months has been overwhelming positive and was tracking in a good direction in that regard. This is a very difficult decision," he says.

Costante says they sent a letter to the province seeking information on the timeline but have not received a response.

"That was the biggest thing for us, it was timelines more than anything," he says. "Whatever the province decides to do at the end of the day it's their decision but we just wanted to know the timeframe so we could budget for it accordingly. In the absence of that, we had to make the tough choice to put a pause at the end of this year."

Between opening in April 2023 until the end of October, SafePoint has received 859 client visits with 182 unique clients accessing the services provided at the site, according to figures provided by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

SafePoint, located at the corner of Wyandotte Street and Goyeau Street in Windsor, is designed to provide a supervised consumption site for those struggling with addiction while also offering a variety of services such as the distribution of harm reduction equipment, drug checking services, and connections to mental health, primary care, and social services.