Vernon Chamber of Commerce talked to businesses around the 32nd Avenue overdose prevention site, some say it is not a problem

Few issues with drug site

Downtown businesses continue to face challenges with the street-entrenched community, but not all are associated with an overdose prevention site.

Some were concerned that the 32nd Avenue site that opened last year would have a drastic impact on area businesses, but those concerns have not materialized.

But some are still worried about the site.

While they agree an overdose prevention site is needed in the city, the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce is questioning if the site might be better utilized in a different location.

Earlier this month, Interior Health provided an update to Vernon city council on the mental health and substance use unit. Between May 2020 and March 2021, there were 3,200 visitors, including 920 unique visitors and 572 first-time visitors.

Some 88 per cent were there for harm-reduction supplies and education while 11 per cent, or 378 people, were there for supervised consumption.

There are about 250 visits a month for harm-reduction supplies and 30 to 40 visits a month for supervised consumption.

“Many concerns of businesses have not materialized from the OPS likely because one person a day frequenting the facility for supervised consumption isn’t going to cause much of a stir. When overdose deaths remain extremely high in B.C., we have to wonder why the OPS usage is so low? Is it because people using drugs are not wanting to be seen by acquaintances entering an OPS as that could create stigma? The chamber, along with the City of Vernon and other organizations, wanted the OPS at the hospital and we still believe that is the best venue as emergency care is readily available during an overdose and the hospital’s wide-ranging activities allow for people to be more anonymous,” said Dan Proulx, Greater Vernon Chamber general manager.

“This is not about having an OPS in Vernon as there are several supervised consumption sites in Vernon, both on 32nd Avenue and in housing complexes. People are dying from overdoses and saving lives is essential. However, we believe the 32nd Avenue location is not ideal for an OPS because very few people are walking through the door and street-entrenched issues are impacting businesses although not to the level foreseen. We didn’t speak with every business on 32nd Avenue, but that doesn’t negate the concerns of those we did engage with. The chamber would welcome meeting with Interior Health and discussing this matter further.”

The chamber reached out to businesses near the downtown overdose prevention site asking if having an OPS as a neighbour had impacted their business.

“We fully appreciate that there is a health emergency in B.C. and we thank health care providers for their efforts to save lives. However, we felt it was important to hear directly from those business owners operating in the area of Interior Health’s mental health and substance use unit on 32nd Avenue,” said Proulx.

“It’s interesting to note that some of our members had not been negatively affected by the facility and we are pleased to hear that is the experience for those individual businesses. Other members, though, indicated that there is an ongoing challenge with street-related issues although they can’t all be directly connected to the OPS.”

One business operator told the chamber, “We are constantly dealing with the drug and street-entrenched people which is nothing new for us,” while another regularly contends with crack pipes, needles and human feces on their property and customers’ vehicles being vandalized.

“It's been a difficult time as the activity has continued on and there has been an increase in situations around our business,” stated the second business.

Of the non-chamber members that were contacted, one building manager indicated he has been unable to lease a unit because the OPS, “brings a very negative feel to the neighbourhood and prospective tenants just don't want to have to deal with that.”

Another businessperson says the OPS has “scared off” prospective buyers for his business and building, and while “things haven't turned out to be as bad as I had feared, I think this is more of a function of the site being drastically under-utilized.”

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