A safe inhalation site in the Downtown Eastside will likely no longer be an option for the 500 daily users it serves by the time April 1 comes around.
The lease on the lot at 99 West Pender Street is set to expire on March 31, causing concern for advocates, while raising fears that people could die as a result of being forced out.
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Kenstone Properties, the owner of the space, told Daily Hive that the lease agreement with Vancouver Coastal Health was based on a negotiated fixed term, “coming to its natural end date.”
The group goes on to say that the arrangement was always meant to be temporary during the pandemic.
“We need to proceed with environmental drilling and testing as part of our listing of the site,” said a spokesperson with Kenstone Properties. The City of Vancouver has sided with Kenstone on the matter, suggesting that the Overdose Prevention Society is offering a misleading narrative about the organization being “forced out.”
Executive Director of the Overdose Prevention Society Sarah Blyth thinks that some leniency could be offered.
“This saves lives, so we’re in a desperate situation. This site is ideal. They could extend the lease at least a few months until we’ve found something,” Blyth told Daily Hive.
“They have to understand people will die. They may not want to acknowledge that or they don’t want that put on them.”
Blyth suggests that the people who have the power to extend the lease could be a hero in this situation, and that they could say, “You know what, listen, we know you’re having a rough time, you guys have been good neighbours, and we’re willing to extend it for a while.”
The site is the only one of its kind in the city, and likely one of the only ones to exist in all of Canada. It’s also one of the few places that people in the Downtown Eastside can access a usable washroom.
It’s a vicious cycle for residents in the Downtown Eastside, who often find they’re trapped on a roller coaster when it comes to safe spaces.
“Being moved around from space to space — it just disrupts everything,” Blyth said. She added that the space has been used by people who have disabilities. It also disrupts any sense of community that may have been established in the area.
In the meantime, Blyth and others with the OPS will be scrambling to find another space.
Vancouver Coastal Health told Daily Hive that requests to extend the lease were declined and that they’re working with the OPS and the City to secure an alternative site.
“VCH is determined to replace this service at a new site as quickly as possible.”
We’ll likely know more about the future of the Downtown Eastside site on 99 West Pender Street when April 1 rolls around.