Lots of people, especially in the downtown area, want to talk about the drug problem that’s been making the news for the last year but has been expanding in our city for longer than that. With the rise in Fentanyl, we’ve seen ever-increasing numbers of deaths in our community, and a recent presentation put into stark reality the number of preventable overdoses we’re experiencing, specifically in the downtown area.
In the spring, I asked staff to set up a task force for the downtown, made up of stakeholders who work in the areas of addiction and other social services, to work on concrete steps we can take to try and a) reduce the number of overdoses in the downtown and b) reduce the prevalence of needles in our parks. The group met over the summer and staff are working on next steps to make sure tamper proof needle boxes are placed in areas where our staff are finding needles.
City staff are also being trained on how to properly dispose of needles. They’ve become a scourge in many of our parks, and those parks are supposed to be for all of our community to enjoy; that’s difficult if not impossible if residents are fearful of their (or their children’s) safety.
Additionally, we’ve asked numerous times that the Region increase the number of NRP officers in the downtown (most notably with a permanent foot patrol) to enhance the feeling of safety for our downtown residents, visitors and businesses. I reiterated this need when I met with the Police Chief before the last Council meeting, and I’ve stated that I will continue to advocate for more officers in the downtown going forward.
The reality is, however, that simply cleaning our parks, adding needle boxes and increasing the number of police officers will not address the problem; these are band-aid solutions. The City needs more resources directed from the Region and the Province to adequately deal with these issues, which range from addiction to mental health to affordable housing to greater access to other social services. There are things we can do at the City level – we brought about a Housing Action Plan that identifies how the City can make access to housing more available, for instance – and in the coming term we need to continue to work with our government partners, along with the NHS, the NRP, mental health providers and other social services, to find proactive solutions that help lift our fellow residents to a better quality of life.
This issue as it relates to drug addiction is relatively new for communities of our size, and St. Catharines (like other mid-size cities) will learn as we go, both from best practices of larger cities where this has been happening for a while, as well as on the ground as we learn what works in Niagara.
When I talk about Delivering Compassionate Results, this what I mean; finding ways to ensure our community is one where all of us are able to experience good quality of life, and where we can all help to build a more prosperous city.