Pressure is building to keep an overdose prevention site out of downtown Vernon.
Councillor Scott Anderson will present a citizen-initiated petition to Vernon City Council Monday, asking the Interior Health Authority to keep its Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) out of both Vernon’s primary and secondary Business Improvement Areas. He will ask that it be forwarded to IHA for its serious consideration.
The petition request reads as follows: “We the undersigned are concerned citizens who are opposed to the placement of an Overdose Prevention Site in downtown Vernon, B.C. We say NO!”
Anderson was asked by a local downtown business owner to present the petition, signed by more than 300 downtown business owners and concerned residents.
“This initiative comes directly from the grassroots – business and property owners who are fighting to survive economically in an increasingly disruptive environment, as well as concerned citizens who have every right to expect safety downtown,” said Anderson, citing the Safeworks injection site in Calgary, which created a massive spike in crime when it opened, and the Cornerstone establishment in Kelowna. “If IHA is going to open an OPS, it should be far away from a downtown already suffering from increased lawlessness, vagrancy, and drug sales.”
So far the Vernon Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Vernon Association, most of City Council, and now a strong grassroots showing have all asked IHA to place the OPS away from the BIA.
They have advocated for the Vernon Jubilee Hospital as an ideal site for the OPS.
“Given that the goal is to save lives, the hospital has all the resources and a full spectrum support infrastructure available right on site,” said Anderson. “Further, it is within walking distance of downtown, the (Upper Room) Mission, and the shelter, and it is linked to the public transportation system. It fulfills all the criteria demanded by IHA, including IHA’s advertised goal of balancing the needs of all stakeholders.
“I’ll be frankly shocked if IHA ignores the wishes of most stakeholders. I think everyone wants to help addicted folks, but there has to be a balance between IHA’s harm reduction measures and the impact of those measures on everyone else,” said Anderson.
He maintains that one can help people with addiction while at the same time refusing to tolerate or encourage negative behaviours that arise from addiction.
“My own personal position is that an OPS by its very nature will attract more crime and vagrancy, and IHA should rethink its strategy and focus on treatment instead, but if it insists on opening an OPS, at least put it in a place that makes sense and not downtown,” said Anderson.
Vernon council will hold a public townhall to allow citizens to voice their opinion of the OPS and other issues surrounding safety and crime in Vernon. Ultimately the decision of if, when and where to put an OPS rests with IHA, and Council has no say in the final outcome.