The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce has joined city councillors in opposing the downtown location of an Interior Health overdose prevention site.
The facility located at 3306 32nd Avenue was opened last week following a May 11 announcement from the regional health authority. On Monday, May 25, Coun. Kari Gares made a motion to send a letter to the province requesting the health authority to reconsider on the basis that neighbouring businesses were not properly consulted prior to the site’s opening.
On Wednesday the Greater Vernon chamber said it has written a letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix and Interior Health president Susan Brown, indicating it agrees with the city’s stance that the site should not to be located downtown or in a privately owned building where private businesses may be impacted.
“Since the May 11, 2020 announcement on a location for an overdose prevention site, the chamber has been contacted by business owners near the site,” wrote chamber president Krystin Kempton. “We have heard concerns that customers, and particularly seniors and families, are worried about their safety given the long-standing issues of drug use, loitering and verbal abuse in the area.”
Kempton also pointed to the financial impact of having two lease negotiations come to a halt once the site was announced. “These cancellations mean a potential revenue loss of $175,000 in gross rent over five years for the building owner.”
Overdose prevention sites provide a safe and hygienic environment where people can inject or consume pre-obtained prescribed or illicit drugs under the supervision of trained staff, according to Interior Health’s website.
Overdose deaths in B.C. spiked in March and April, with the BC Coroners Service reporting 117 deaths last month.
However, the chamber says now is not the time for a downtown site, given the struggles businesses are already going through as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our chamber continues to believe that an OPS in the downtown core will compound existing safety concerns and decrease property values, particularly at a time when business owners are struggling with the repercussions of COVID-19.”
In line with the City of Vernon’s position, the issue for the chamber is not whether the city should have an overdose prevention site, but where it should be located.
“The issue is strictly focused on the location of the facility,” said Kempton. The chamber instead called for the site to be located at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
“Minister Dix and Ms. Brown, we would encourage you to not only listen to the businesspeople expressing concerns but to put yourself in their position for a few minutes and consider how you would react if your career and passion were being negatively impacted. They are sympathetic towards those in need, but they require assurances that they can continue to operate their businesses unimpeded,” said Kempton.
“It is time for the ministry and IH to have direct discussions with the City of Vernon, the chamber of commerce and other organizations in an attempt to create an environment that is healthy for all residents, whether they be OPS clients or business owners.”