Comstock: Non-hospital safe-injection sites create skid rows

“…from the Atlantic to Pacific, oh the traffic is terrific, cause there’s no place like home for the Holidays, no matter how far away you roam, if you want to be happy in a million ways, for the Holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.”

By Michael Comstock – 

2.1002288.comstockI am blessed with two sons. One lives in Vancouver, the other in New York City, and so around Christmas travel plans have to be made. I visited Vancouver this month to feel better about NYC for Christmas. Of course, the eco-warriors will argue that we should all just stay put and save the carbon footprint of transporting ourselves across the country. The poverty activists would rather we stayed at home and donated these travel costs to the poor. I know that holidays help us all. They are mental-health breaks from regular workdays and a major stimulus package for our weak economy. Vancouver has finished building its Olympic venues and a rail link from the airport to downtown, and is abuzz with anticipation.
There is a pride of place in Vancouver of friendliness, openness and growth. While mowing the lawn you could see 1.5 metres of snow on the Seymour Mountain ski trails. What a setting! The building and climbing real estate prices underscore their optimism. On the way across Canada I thought about the In-Site Safe Injection experiment from Vancouver being planned for some commercial strip in Toronto. I wanted to see the Vancouver storefront lab for real, not just on Google Maps. Being a keen supporter of neighbourhood business, I wonder why such a specialized medical facility was put into a commercial strip and what that does to the surrounding neighbourhood. I voiced my opposition to the 30 year olds with whom I was visiting and was lectured, repeatedly, on the positive studies around heroin addicts being controlled and getting treatment because of the In Site. I won only a little argument on the question of the drugs still coming from organized crime. But they countered that the government wasn’t sufficiently left to develop a heroin supply and avoid supporting the Afghan poppy crops. In the end, “if all intoxicants where easily available at a cost of 10¢, the population could focus on living clean and have treatment programs without criminals, courts and police.” I gave up debating the need for such a place.
It still is very troubling that the service will not be at a hospital, but placed in a storefront and brand forever those blocks as our addicts’ Skid Row. With the Olympics coming and all that West Coast positivism, the homeless advocates provide counterpoint, the buzz kill. Homeless advocates killed Toronto’s Olympic dream years back with the media perfect chant, “Bread not Circuses.” In Vancouver they are twisting the new Assistance to Shelter Act, into the “Olympic Kidnapping Act.” We still watch as people freeze to death each winter in Toronto because they refuse to go to a shelter. Van’s new law allows police the power to take those with nowhere else to go, out of the cold. There is a large bit of the anarchist in today’s homeless and poverty advocates. Skid row preservation, graffiti, postering and sleeping on the sidewalks become examples of living idealistically free.
Advocating these gritty practises hampers finding real solutions for the ravages of drug addiction, mental health problems, shelters and housing. Returning to Toronto I still feel the buoyant optimism of Vancouver. The Pan Am games give us meagre hope for development. The coming mayoral election will give us some real civic energy. Toronto needs to have change on many fronts and the election rhetoric is just the place to find new directions. Listen for candidates who support Toronto election reforms. Three needed changes include: stopping corporate and union financial donations to candidates, increase voters lists to everyone in Toronto and—most important— term limits at city hall. Secondly, why not acknowledge that the regular political parties exist in our city politics. If candidates are aligned with certain political policies, that association should be shared. Thirdly, why not put some city programs on the ballot? Can we vote on improving shelters, tolls for the expressway, the Island airport, TTC operations and those ugly plastic garbage bins? Power to the people! Merry Christmas!