October 20, 2020 5:00 PM, Vancouver B.C. – At today’s Vancouver City Council meeting, the NPA’s four City Councillors supported a referral motion calling on staff to explore other options for an indoor supervised overdose prevention and harm reduction services site in the Downtown Granville South neighbourhood; one that would replace an existing mobile overdose prevention service in the area.
The referral motion, brought forward by NPA City Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung, came in response to feedback from residents of the area concerned that the chosen location at 1101 Seymour Street was not subject to any public notification nor any community dialogue. The motion to refer the matter back to staff was not supported by the majority on Council, including being ruled out of order by the Mayor. The overdose prevention site will now go ahead without public engagement or a clear plan to mitigate community impacts.
Councillor Melissa De Genova also moved an amendment to ask city staff to work with stakeholders to consider deploying more mobile overdose prevention sites; reinforcing support for the Four Pillars Drug Strategy and access throughout the city. Her amendment was focused on filling the consultation gap surrounding mitigation measures which is something Council heard from residents was missing from the decision. De Genova’s amendment was supported by Council.
The Seymour Street location for the overdose prevention site is considered by many in the neighbourhood to be far too close to a nearby park and playground (Emery Barnes Park), as well as a future daycare site across the street. Public concerns have also been raised regarding the small size of the proposed site, the lack of ‘chill out’ space for substance users, and the lack of suitable outdoor space for supervised inhalation services. The neighbourhood has experienced increasing crime and street disorder over the past year signalling a significant need for a plan to manage and mitigate impacts on the neighbourhood and its residents.
Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung: “The NPA Caucus fully support the creation of a supervised overdose prevention site in the Downtown South area and the need for safe, life-saving, harm reduction services. While overdose prevention sites are a public health initiative, the City has a responsibility to our residents; we’ve heard loud and clear that residents have significant concerns and are feeling increasingly unsafe in their neighbourhood, are worried about children, seniors, street disorder, sanitation, and increasing crime. We called for working with residents on a plan and services to address these concerns, as well as pursue a site that is not in close proximity to a children’s playground and school. The proposed site is also limited in size and does not provide the ability for fully contained services including a chill lounge and inhalation space. It’s important to be clear that there is no net increase in service in Downtown South with the proposed transition from a mobile service to a physical location. So why not take the time and a short pause to identify a site that can provide better services, minimize neighbourhood impacts, engage with residents, and do this right.”
Councillor Melissa De Genova: “Our NPA Caucus made decisions guided by the Four Pillars Drug Strategy, but we need all of the pillars for it to work. I support the Four Pillars approach, but it doesn’t work without community involvement. Moving the goalposts erodes public trust and creates opposition that makes future solutions even more difficult. Bringing together community is the only way to ensure success and expect buy-in from the public. We can have harm reduction and public safety; one is not exclusive of the other.”
Councillor Lisa Dominato: “I fully support harm reduction and overdose preventions sites, including one in Downtown South. However, there has been no public engagement on this proposal; families, as well as the VPD, have concerns regarding the proposed location adjacent to a heavily used park and playground. There is currently a mobile service in place in the neighborhood and there would be no loss of service if VCH were to explore an alternate location nearby.”
Councillor Colleen Hardwick: “We were elected to represent the inhabitants of our City, as defined in the Vancouver Charter. That means listening to our residents and engaging them in dialogue. In this case, there has been insufficient dialogue with the community. Dialogue engages people in building their understanding of an issue, without the pressure to make decisions or be “right.” By imposing this decision on the neighbourhood without proper dialogue calls into question its legitimacy. That said, we have an epidemic of overdose deaths in our city that must be addressed. We must find a balance between the need for safety in our neighbourhoods and the need to save lives. Engaging every neighbourhood of the city to develop that balance should be our objective.”
In recent months, street activity in the Granville area has increased and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has identified the need to address a gap in harm reduction and overdose prevention services in the neighbourhood – which have been compounded by the COIVD-19 pandemic. Mobile overdose prevention services have been operating near the 1101 Seymour Street location since summer of 2020 with the unanimous support of Council. These mobile overdose prevention and harm reduction services would have continued uninterrupted if a majority of Council had supported the referral motion to explore alternate permanent locations.
In April 2016, following a significant increase in opioid-related overdose deaths from drug poisoning, a public health emergency was declared in B.C. During the COVID-19 pandemic, overdose death rates in Vancouver and B.C. have increased: From January 1 to July 31, 2020, the BC Coroners Service reported 223 overdose deaths in the City of Vancouver. And in May, June, and July 2020, more than 170 deaths across B.C. were recorded – the highest since the onset of the pandemic.
The Vancouver Police Department recently provided Council with preliminary crime statistics reflecting January to September 2020 compared to same period 2019. The data provided to Council stated:
- 16 of Vancouver’s 24 neighbourhoods have seen an increase in violent crime.
- Total assaults have increased by 1.8%, despite the fact that many bars in the Granville Entertainment District were closed or reduced their hours.
- The most serious types of assaults (i.e. “assault with a weapon or cause bodily harm” and “aggravated assault”) increased by 14.1%.
- Neighbourhoods that have attracted significant public and media attention over the past five months have also seen increases in crime categories (i.e. Yaletown, Downtown, Chinatown, Strathcona).
The complete text of Councillor Kirby-Yung’s rejected referral motion and Councillor De Genova’s amendment are appended below at the end of this media release.
Media please call or text:
- Sarah Kirby-Yung at 604-788-1352
- Melissa De Genova at 604-767-8731
- Lisa Dominato at 778-980-4422
COUNCILLOR KIRBY-YUNG’S REFERRAL MOTION TEXT
THAT Council affirms its support for prioritizing an overdose prevention site in the Downtown South area as an important component of a balanced four pillars approach and response to the overdose public health emergency.
THAT Council refer Recommendations B, C and D relating to a proposed lease for Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (VCH) for an Overdose Prevention Site at 1101 Seymour Street) to staff to explore alternate city-owned locations that are not directly adjacent to a park, children’s playground or school, including consideration for locations that have outdoor space for safe inhalation, and to undertake a public notification process with respect to any proposed site; or for VCH to explore non city-owned locations noting Council’s desire that VCH note similar considerations in site identification.
FURTHER THAT, IF an alternate city-owned site can be identified, the staff report back include a Good Neighbour Agreement with VCH that addresses requirements for building and site cleanliness, expectations for minimizing discarded needles and drug equipment, detailing of proposed services, hours of operation, how any queuing outside the building exterior might be managed, and ventilation in relation to adjacent residences, businesses and public realm.
THAT the report back include information on increased City sanitation services that could be put in place to mitigate possible related neighbourhood area impacts including discarded needles, feces and waste in the public realm, including specific attention to Emery Barnes Park if the final site is nearby, in consultation with the Vancouver Park Board.
FURTHER that staff also consult with the VPD, Vancouver Coastal Health and non-profit partners as appropriate regarding measures that would best support a smooth launch of a new OPS, including provisions for ongoing monitoring of the site in order to identify and respond to issues.
COUNCILLOR DE GENOVA’S AMENDMENT TEXT
THAT concurrent to the consultation outlined above, Council direct staff to work with VCH, VPD, and relevant stakeholders, and consider prioritizing OPS locations in neighborhoods with the greatest need and risk of overdoses, informed by data including recent overdose deaths.
AND FURTHERMORE that through the lens of the Four Pillars Drug Strategy, Council also direct staff to work with and request VCH to consider the feasibility of deploying a number of mobile OPS locations, in addition to, one permanent location, with consideration for moving forward with the shared goal of preventing overdose deaths citywide.