How should cities decide where to locate safe-injection sites?

June 13, 2018
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From a TV Ontario news item: Rosetta Haddad fled the civil war in Lebanon more than 30 years ago in hope of a better life in Canada. Now in her early sixties, she faces a different kind of conflict in her home -- this time involving the unpredictable and desperate behaviour of people hooked on drugs who are squatting in her geared-to-income apartment building.

Sitting in her tiny eighth-floor apartment at 241 Simcoe Street, the London public housing facility where she has lived off and on since 1997, Haddad recalls a recent early morning encounter in the narrow first-floor hallway. A fellow resident who she knew was a user of injection drugs was hallucinating and pounding on the building's office door, threatening to kill anyone inside (the office was empty). She was able to slip away and call the police. 

Haddad and other residents say they deal with a host of other problems living at the 12-storey former seniors' residence that has become known as the "Crystal Palace": petty theft; knife fights in the cramped and often crowded lobby; people sleeping, shooting up, and defecating in the stairwells; people having sex in the laundry room; people hiding needles on the underside of banisters (creating a risk that someone will get jabbed); and emergency exits getting blocked with garbage and grocery carts. One resident says she was punched by someone she believed was high. 

The 217-unit building occupies a no-man's land on the outskirts of London's up-and-coming Soho neighbourhood. Industrial lots and a Salvation Army emergency shelter share the area with single homes and storefronts in sagging old buildings (a pawn shop, a vaping store, a church-run second-hand clothing store). At 241 Simcoe, Haddad is the "building contact" (a sort of part-time superintendent position that she holds in lieu of paying rent). She believes homeless "guests" -- at least three of them loitered in the stairwells on a recent Sunday afternoon -- are responsible for the problems. They easily slip past the building's rudimentary front-door security, she says. When she encounters people in the stairwell, Haddad opens the door to make sure the hallway camera can see her, and she keeps her distance as she instructs them to leave. "I am careful," she says.

Read more: How should cities decide where to locate safe-injection sites?