In a surprise move, Cambridge council ended nearly four years of debate on where to open a consumption and treatment services site by voting to bring one to 150 Main St. where wraparound services already exist to stem a growing tide of overdose deaths in the city.
The City of Cambridge will now ask Waterloo Region Public Health and the Cambridge North Dumfries Health Team to move forward with applying for funding and seeking a provincial operator for the downtown Galt consumption site.
Coun. Donna Reid tabled the motion to consider 150 Main as the preferred site for a CTS after hearing over four hours of staff reports and delegations on the outcome of an online survey that asked residents to rank two other sites within walking distance of Galt’s core.
Over 70 per cent of the roughly 1,200 residents and business owners in that survey didn’t think either 15 Easton St. or 8 Oxford Ave. was suitable.
Reid said she’s always encouraged by citizen engagement in informing council decisions, but believes the “absolute fear” she’s heard from some residents “has paralyzed their thinking.”
The most powerful insight came from those who based their comments on knowledge and science around how a CTS works to save lives, Reid said.
“I encourage all of you to seek information on the sites in Guelph, Kitchener, London and Hamilton,” she said, adding that those opposed to a CTS in Cambridge because of their political beliefs are ignoring the lifesaving service it provides.
“I cannot watch residents die while I have the power to support the reversals of these overdoses. A CTS saves lives. A CTS is 100 per cent effective at treating and preventing overdoses.”Other councillors agreed.
“We’ve been kicking this can down the road for four or five years now,” said Coun. Mike Devine, admitting he wasn’t “too enamoured” with either of the proposed locations on Easton and Oxford streets.
Couching the CTS at 150 Main not only makes sense because of the location, but because it’s surrounded by “good strong referral services” that will be paramount to its success, he said.
“We have to have one in the city” and “this is the wisest choice.”
Coun. Mike Mann was fully behind Reid’s motion, noting how much it made sense because of the wraparound services already on site to treat an existing population that wouldn’t change with the introduction of a CTS.
He noted that while the majority of the comments in the survey said no to a CTS in Cambridge, they said yes to treatment, detox, and social services.
“I believe that we live in a community that supports each other and helps each other the best we can, because we care,” Mann said.
The services at 150 Main Street already offer what the city is asking for, Mann explained.
Health education, harm reduction, housing, employment, disease prevention, referral services and mental health supports, all paid for by the Region of Waterloo and all offered by agencies on site, which include the AIDS Committee of Cambridge Kitchener Waterloo and Area (ACCKWA), Langs, the Hub, the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank, Sanguine, Lutherwood, Stonehenge Therapeutic Services, and the Telus Mobile Help Bus.
The handful of potential clients of the CTS who participated in the survey said they access services at 150 Main St. now and they don’t understand why it can’t be considered for a CTS for the same reasons.
The region dropped 150 Main from consideration in 2019 in response to community concerns about its proximity to Central Public School and core businesses.
“I think most of you know that I didn’t like the idea of a consumption site. I always liked the idea of a treatment centre,” Mann said. “But I absolutely can’t sit back anymore and watch people dying in our community as a result of accidental overdoses.”
“I think based on the data and information we’ve received that it would be the best location,” Coun. Scott Hamilton agreed. “I think we have to do the best we can to save all the lives in the city.”
Despite those convincing words, Coun. Jan Liggett wasn’t in favour of the motion in the least.
“What you’re saying to the people again is that consultation means nothing when it comes to the community.
“We spent all this money. All this time. We promised the public that their voices will be heard and now that you don’t like what they have to say… you’re saying it doesn’t matter.”
The BIA wasn’t even told Reid’s motion was going to be discussed, Liggett said.
“Now you’re making a decision to have a CTS at 150 Main, where it’s going to impact their families and their livelihoods?” she said. “You’re telling them that you don’t care that the economy of our city is going to be impacted?”
That prompted Coun. Pam Wolf to call Liggett’s comments out of order for being disrespectful and putting words in their mouths.
Mayor Kathryn McGarry promptly supported it.
“Of course,” Liggett blasted as McGarry told her she’d heard enough.
“Why don’t I just shut up now,” Liggett continued. “No. I’m tired of you taking other people’s points of order. I’m tired of it.”
Liggett then went on to accuse McGarry and the other councillors of conspiring with each other on the motion prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
“I have been left out of all of this. There’s been a total disrespect. I am disappointed I haven’t been included in any of those conversations,” she said as McGarry insisted Liggett stop talking out of line.
“Never mind,” Liggett said before switching off her video. “I’m going to leave this meeting before I say things that I shouldn’t be saying.”
Uncomfortable with the notion of a CTS and concerned about the proximity to a school and residential neighbourhood, Coun. Nick Ermetta asked for a deferral and a chance to host a community meeting on council’s new direction.
His motion was defeated.
Offering support for Reid’s motion, McGarry said it was a difficult decision made easier after hearing directly from the people supported by 150 Main.
She’s also heard new information from cities with CTS sites where none of the fears about increased crime and drug use materialized.
"There’s been a drop in public drug use and a drop in public disorder and a drop in the needle debris,” she said.
“The evidence is clear. The Cambridge CTS will save lives.
"I refuse to defer this decision any longer. I refuse to let more people die needlessly. Inaction exacerbates the issue. Another deferral will be deadly."
Provincially approved consumption and treatment services are funded 100 per cent by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and no financial support from the City of Cambridge is being requested.