Overdose crisis: Belleville calls for help from Ontario government

Belleville is calling the province for resources days after declaring a state of emergency over a rash of drug overdoses in the city.

Belleville Mayor Neil Ellis declared the state of emergency Thursday after crews were called to 17 overdoses in just 24 hours on Feb. 6.

Ellis said Monday the city spends roughly $20 million a year to deal with homelessness, addictions and mental health, but more is needed.

He said he’s reached out to the province asking for help to fund a community hub for addictions, mental health and homelessness, as well as a much-needed detox centre in the city.

“Unfortunately our efforts are not having the intended effect and are clearly not enough,” he told reporters at a press conference.

“Our city, its local businesses, residents and most importantly the vulnerable population need more.”

Ellis says plans are already underway for the social and health services hub known as “The Bridge,” but the city needs an additional $2 million from the province to move the project forward.

The hub is being built in a property the city purchased for $1 million, but the space needs an additional $3 million in repairs, said Sheila Braidek, executive director of the Belleville and Quinte West Community Health Centre.

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While the city has promised another $1 million to help with construction, Braidek said the provincial money is needed to get the work done and another $3.5 million will be needed annually for operations.

“It’s a central location where people would be able to access some of those immediate day-to-day supports that they need – food, shelter, shower – and also be able to connect with a wide range of wrap-around services including primary health care, mental health supports, substance health supports,” Braidek explained of the planned hub.

“This is not just a project to support the homeless – this is a project that is going to support our entire community.”

Ellis with provincial funding the care hub could be open by this fall or winter.

First responders suspect poisoned drug supply

Meanwhile the city is also asking for funds to establish a detox centre in Belleville, which the police chief says would be a crucial component in tackling the ongoing drug crisis.

The majority of the Feb. 6 overdoses happened within a two-hour window in the city’s downtown core, which at the time forced police to take the unusual move of asking the public to avoid the downtown during the surge in ambulance traffic.

Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services Chief Carl Bowker said since last week crews have responded to 35 overdose-related calls.

Twenty people have been hospitalized and one person died Friday, Bowker said, adding emergency responders believe they are dealing with a poisoned drug supply.

“We suspect that there’s a powerful sedative that’s not responding to the Narcan,” Bowker said Monday.

“They’re often transported to hospital on a high priority in an unconscious or decreased level of awareness, so that’s what we’re seeing out there on the streets.”

Belleville’s police chief said Monday that investigators are still working to find a sample of the drugs that led to the overdoses to test.

— with files from The Canadian Press


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