Yaletown overdose prevention site could be relocated, says city councillor

May 13 2023, 5:00 am

A publicly accessible overdose prevention site (OPS) within a City of Vancouver-owned social housing building at the edge of Yaletown could be considered for relocation, following numerous complaints from its neighbours that public disorder, strewn needles, and crime and public safety issues in the area stem from the facility’s opening.

More than two years ago, the Thomus Donaghy Overdose Prevention Site opened within a 580 sq ft unit of the social service centre on the ground level of the building at 1101 Seymour Street — located at the southwest corner of the intersection of Helmcken Street and Seymour Street in downtown Vancouver.

The location received the thumbs up by a majority of the previous makeup of Vancouver City Council in October 2020, during a highly heated public meeting on the lease for the space, where proponents vowed to be accountable to the neighbourhood and address any issues as they arise.

But ever since, neighbours have been highly vocal of the apparent issues that began following the opening of the OPS, and critical of RainCity Housing and Support Society’s operations of the facility. The frequency and nature of the issues have also been well documented on social media by at least one local resident.

“There has been vocal concern from community members regarding the Yaletown OPS,” ABC Vancouver city councillor Peter Meizner told Daily Hive Urbanized. “The City is responding with enhanced measures to address some of the more immediate issues, such as bylaw infractions, structures and debris on sidewalks, and public safety concerns.”

He says there are “ongoing conversations regarding the future” of the facility, as “it has become clear that the current site is an insufficient size for the levels of demand, and reasonable questions have been raised surrounding the suitability of that site moving forward.”

In the meantime, adds Meiszner, the municipal government will work with the facility’s partners and the Vancouver Police Department to monitor crime rates in the area and address challenges.

“Safe consumption sites play an important role in preventing deaths from overdoses and toxic drugs, there is a very real need for them,” he adds.

Prior to the opening of the OPS within the building, there was a mobile van parked outside on the street that served as a temporary OPS for the area.

The opening of this facility was a relocation of the OPS previously located nearby at St. Paul’s Hospital — until the fatal stabbing of a volunteer at the OPS in July 2020. St. Paul’s Hospital staff raised safety concerns with the on-site OPS location following the death of Thomus Donaghy. This OPS is formally named the Thomus Donaghy Overdose Prevention Site in memory of him.

In an email to Daily Hive Urbanized, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) states visitation at the OPS has skyrocketed since it first opened — from averaging 40 visits per day initially to about 100 visits per day more recently.

“This is an indication of community need and demand for this important healthcare service,” stated VCH, adding that the Vancouver City Centre sub-area — where the OPS is located — records the second highest number of overdose deaths in VCH’s entire jurisdiction and calls to 911 for emergency health services after the Downtown Eastside.

In response to the concerns raised by residents, VCH states it has made several changes regarding the facility’s operations, including regular needle sweeps to pick up discarded litter in adjacent areas, establishing a quarterly tenants’ meeting with the municipal government to understand address community feedback, and ongoing dialogue with the municipality, police, and organizations and residents near the OPS.

“While services are delivered from the existing site, VCH is committed to continuing to operate this site as a good neighbour, and to work with municipal government and service partners to address issues if they arise,” continued VCH.

The lease with the City to operate the OPS at the space is currently timed to expire in Spring 2024.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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