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Tensions boil over at meeting on new supervised injection site in Charlottetown

A public meeting on expanding services at the Park Street Emergency Shelter in Charlottetown turned chaotic several times Wednesday night.

Prince Edward Island Housing Minister Rob Lantz was shoved by an angry resident who wanted the shelter that’s been in place since late 2022 moved away from his neighbourhood. Members of the crowd stepped in to stop the altercation, some being kicked in the process.

The resident identified himself to a CBC reporter as Mark Brown, saying he was the brother of Mayor Philip Brown. 

In a news release Thursday morning, Charlottetown police said they’re reviewing video of the incident and talking with witnesses. They said they will provide an update if charges are laid.

More than 200 people attended the meeting at the Confederation Centre’s Memorial Hall, most voicing their opposition to the province’s proposal to add a supervised injection site to the Park Street shelter.

After Housing Minister Rob Lantz was shoved at the meeting, others in the crowd pulled a man away from him in a scene of chaos.
After Housing Minister Rob Lantz was shoved at the meeting, others in the crowd pulled a man away from him in a scene of chaos. (Tony Davis/CBC)

The provincial government’s plan for the overdose prevention site would let people use the facility to take drugs they’ve obtained themselves, after using supplied kits to test the drugs for the presence of dangerous substances such as fentanyl.

The Charlottetown-based harm reduction organization PEERS Alliance will run the facility.

Over two hundred people were at the meeting — the vast majority of them were against the proposal.
More than 200 people attended a public meeting Wednesday night, with most saying that don’t want an overdose prevention site added to the Park Street Emergency Shelter. (Tony Davis/CBC)

Originally the supervised injection site was to be located at 33 Belmont Street, across from the city’s food bank, but during the spring provincial election campaign, the Progressive Conservative candidate for the district said the site would be going elsewhere. Premier Dennis King later agreed to moving the site. 

‘I don’t think it is a good program to start with’

Many people who live near the Park Street shelter, set up in December using modular units to let people without housing get out of the cold at night, said they don’t want the drug consumption site in their neighbourhood either.

“I don’t think it is a good program to start with,” said Tommy Ford. “B.C. is in a drug crisis and the program out there is not working, so this program is not going to work.

Tommy Ford
‘I don’t think it is a good program to start with,’ says Tommy Ford, who lives near the Park Street shelter. (Tony Davis/CBC)

“Most of the people we talked to, or talked to us about this program, they are all basing everything on their job. They don’t want the crisis to go away. They want the crisis because it is work for them.”

There were 36 accidental opioid-related overdoses in P.E.I. in 2022, four of them fatal, according to the province’s website. 

Numbers for accidental or unintentional overdoses involving opioids do not include those that occurred as a result of intentional self-inflicted harm.

Shawn Martin, harm reduction coordinator with the Chief Public Health Office, said it’s hard to know the true number of overdoses in the province because many go unreported.

Harm reduction ‘saves lives,’ resident says

While most people who spoke at Wednesday night’s meeting were against the site, some community members said it’s needed to help people at risk.

Tegan Hermanson, left, and Fiona Everly, were part of the few Charlottetown residents at the meeting advocating for added services at the emergency shelter.
Tegan Hermanson, left, and Fiona Everly were in favour of adding services at the emergency shelter. (Tony Davis/CBC)

I am very much for it. I think it is really important to protect our most vulnerable in our community and provide them a safe space,” said Charlottetown resident Fiona Everly.

“No only is it an injection site, but it’s also a way to connect with community, it’s also a way to find other types of supports as well. It’s very multipurpose and I think it is really important for our community.”

Park Street units
Many people at the meeting said they don’t want a supervised injection site added near the modular units at the Park Street Emergency Shelter in Charlottetown. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Tegan Hermanson lives about a kilometre away from the Park Street shelter.

“I think harm reduction 100 per cent saves lives. These are community members and this is an opportunity to protect members of our community as well as our neighbours,” she said.

The meeting was disrupted by shouting several times. Someone even brought in a portable microphone and amp and talked over the official presenters.

The chaos left Hermanson saying she felt unsafe.

“There were folks that took actions that created an unsafe space. There was a lot of intimidation,” she said. “There was also a physical altercation. That was really unfortunate to see. It would have been great to have the community come together to discuss concerns.”

Concerns will be considered, health minister says

One of the presentations at the meeting included data from a Chief Public Health Office survey of people with lived experience dealing with addiction. Of the 55 people surveyed, 87 per cent said they would use a supervised consumption site.

Two single beds side by side with red coverlets with a moose pattern, fleece blankets folded at the bottom, and towels folded on top. There is a window on one wall and a small table between the beds.
People can sleep at the Park Street Emergency Shelter during the overnight hours, but must go elsewhere during the day. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

All of the people surveyed said they have used needles in public spaces in the past. Martin said the province hopes a supervised site would cut down on discarded needles in parks and other green spaces.

Health Minister Mark McLean said the province is applying to the City of Charlottetown for a one-year variance to bring the overdose prevention site (OPS) to the Park Street shelter site starting in August. It would be located in a separate modular unit, with fencing around the back and sides and security staff in place.

“I think tonight was an important part of the process to consult with the public,” McLean said of the public meeting.

Minister of Health and Wellness Mark McLean at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
The province is applying for a temporary variance to let a new supervised consumption site at the existing temporary housing shelter, says Minister of Health and Wellness Mark McLean. (Tony Davis/CBC)

“It’s important we have the conversation about what an OPS site is and maybe why it is necessary on P.E.I. I think that was the main goal of the evening.” 

Outreach centre relocation?

Martin said that while other options were looked at, the Park Street location was chosen because it is within a 20-minute walk of other services such as the Community Outreach Centre on Euston Street.

A number of people in that neighbourhood, including Charlottetown Coun. Mitch Tweel, have said they want the outreach centre moved from its current location. Its manager has also said the centre is over capacity and needs a bigger home. 

“Many of the clients of those services overlap,” Lantz said. “So there is some discussion…

“We will eventually relocate the outreach centre. The Park Street property is a potential location and on many levels makes sense.”

head shot
The Park Street property is ‘a potential location’ for the Charlottetown Outreach Centre down the road, says Housing Minister Rob Lantz. (CBC )

He added there needs to be an environmental assessment of the property before the province would consider moving the outreach centre there.

The minister said the 50 beds at the Park Street overnight shelter have been well used. The shelter was near or at capacity most of the winter, though usage is trending slightly downward, Lantz said.

As for concerns about theft and people breaking into out buildings near the shelter, Lantz said that happens everywhere.

“It happens in my neighbourhood, it happens on my street, it happens to me. Maybe not as frequently as to some people are closer to these services, certainly not. I understand there is a lot of frustration,” he said. 

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