.Lee Griffi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A special Council Meeting has been called to hear from stakeholders about the possibility of locating a Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS) site in Woodstock. The meeting will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 1 p.m. at Woodstock City Hall. The meeting will also be streamed live on the city’s YouTube channel. 

“This is a complex issue and one that people have a wide range of opinions about and experiences with,” said Mayor Jerry Acchione. “That’s why I’ve called this meeting. We really want to hear from the public on both sides of this issue so that we can make an informed decision when the time comes.”

Southwestern Public Health undertook a Consumption and Treatment Services Feasibility Study earlier this year. On June 22 the Board of Health voted to further explore the recommendations coming out of it. The recommendations specifically identify the intent to seek a letter of support from the city to locate a site in Woodstock, subject to additional consultation with stakeholders.

In response to the board of health’s decision, Councillor Mark Schadenberg submitted a notice of motion at the July 13 council meeting asking other elected officials to indicate they would not support a CTS site in Woodstock. The motion was slated for discussion at the Aug. 10 meeting, however, based on the interest received following the notice, Schadenberg withdrew his motion to allow for more input from the community.

One such organization looking to have a voice on the issue is the United Way of Oxford and its Executive Director, Kelly Gilson. “(We) are in favour of supports and services that help those struggling with mental health and addictions, and we understand that a variety of programs and services are required. We are very much in support of SWPH’s move to Phase 2 of the Feasibility Study.” Gilson added that people should not rush to judgement that a site would be negative for the city but rather get educated on the big picture. “We believe that decisions must be informed by data, research, facts, financial analysis, evidence-based practices, local needs, etc., and should not be made before a full review with all the necessary information available.  We will be speaking to that at the Special Council meeting as a delegation.”

Gilson explained why her organization will be presenting in favour of the idea. “We are in support of services and treatment options that are compassionate, evidence-based, that can truly help people who are struggling with substance abuse and looking for assistance. We believe in harm reduction and services. This is one of many tools.” She added the United Way funds and partners with organizations who are the service providers. “They know what treatments can help people. It’s complicated but we believe in it. What we want to see is good evidence presented and analyzed so that best decision for the people in the community can be made.”

Southwest Public Health is moving forward with part two of their study into what is commonly called a safe injection site in Woodstock in addition to one in St. Thomas. Gilson said members of council will be able to hear important details that should educate them before making a decision. “City council will need to have information on the cost of the financial, human, and healthcare implications. It is fantastic that Mayor Acchione has called this meeting to hear from the community and we certainly encourage people to listen in.” Gilson added she will be making a presentation at the meeting from a United Way Oxford lens. “As a funder of social services, we certainly have a role. One of the other things we are committed to is shining a light on unignorable issues. We want to build community awareness, understanding, and empathy to do things together.” 

When asked her thoughts on the argument that a safe injection site will bring more drug users and homeless people into the city, Gilson rejected the claim. “Those are opinions and not necessarily based on fact. It would be far better to look at communities that have already gone through this process.” 

Woodstock City and County Councillor Deb Tait doesn’t share Gilson’s positive attitude towards public health’s study. She said the best people to talk to in regard to the ups and downs of a CTS are those dealing with it day in and day out. “Any research and data can be swayed on both sides. I am going to take the advice of law enforcement and health officials I have talked to. The stats show that about two per cent of drugs users will actually utilize (a site). I always ask people why would you not advocate for money for mental health and addiction beds.” She added she has talked to police in municipalities that have sites, and it isn’t pretty. “There is a ring around them about 500 metres where petty theft is off the charts. The only people benefitting are the drug dealers. They know where to go. They know where to prey on people. Why would you put vulnerable people where they can be preyed upon?” She added the normal hours for a site is 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and questioned what addicts would do after the doors close. An emotional Tait also believes a CTS would just make the current problem in Woodstock worse. “We have all of these social agencies in Oxford County. There are millions of dollars being spent. Advocate for mental health beds and addiction help.”

Tait said her four years of research has told her that these sites do not help the problem. “I don’t see anywhere they have helped. As I have said before, the most important thing is to help these people and get them off drugs. Drug addiction and mental health help is what I would advocate for, not encouraging that doing drugs is safe or beneficial to anybody.”

Those wanting to appear before council on this topic must complete a delegation request form by September 22 at 12 p.m. The public may also submit feedback in writing by email to clerksinfo@cityofwoodstock.ca or by mail to PO Box 1539, Woodstock, ON N4S 0A7. All feedback received will be circulated to Council as part of the publicly available meeting agenda. Any personal or identifying information received will be redacted and not shared publicly. Meeting details are available at www.cityofwoodstock.ca/agendasandminutes.

By , Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 17, 2023 at 11:51

This item reprinted with permission from   The Gazette   Wilmot-Tavistock, Ontario

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