We had a surprisingly short Council Meeting on Monday. We were anticipating a couple of longer Public Hearings, but staff became aware late in the afternoon that the Zoom invite sent out did not point participants to the right place for the Zoom meeting, for obscure Zoom-related technical reasons. The legislative requirements for clear public access to a Public Meeting are already strained a bit operating under our remote work COVID Ministerial Orders, so our staff made the prudent last-minute decision that the Public Hearings should be re-scheduled. It’s a bit unfortunate, but mistakes happen when everyone is working with new processes, and we are always better served to err on the side of assuring legislative requirements are met. I understand now the delayed Public Hearings will occur on February 22nd, but best check with City Page updates and not rely on my Blog to schedule your participation (have I mentioned recently that this Blog is not official communications from the City?)
The delays left us with a single item on the Agenda:
40 Begbie Street (Lower Mainland Purpose Society): Temporary Use Permit for a Health Contact Centre (Overdose Prevention Site) – preliminary Report
Council has been advocating to Fraser Health to help bring more support to people impacted by the poisoned drug supply crisis. One of the approaches we have asked the Health Authority to support is an overdose prevention site – a place where people using drugs can do so with health supervision, and where users can access the kind of health services they need, including referral to treatment and other services. The New West Overdose Community Action Team has been working with Purpose (large P and small p) to bring these services to New West.
Overdose Prevention Sites save lives. They are not the solution to the opioid crisis, but they demonstrably reduce deaths, and improve health outcomes for a cohort of drug users. They are one piece of a big, complicated puzzle, but an important one.
For this to operate in the location made available by Purpose, we need to adjust the zoning language. Staff are recommending a Temporary Use Permit to do this, and have outlined a community consultation and approval process that is typical for a TUP in COVID times. Council raised concerns about the potential delay of our process. This is a Public Health Emergency – it is not hyperbole to say people may die waiting for this centre to open. There is still some work to do by Purpose, Fraser Health, and the City to get it up and running, but the message sent by Council was that we don’t want to be the ones slowing things down.
I also wanted to say a few things about the consultation around this proposal, but first I need to talk a bit about the word “consultation”. The organization for professionals who do community engagement work for a living have identified a spectrum of consultation that informs the City’s Public Engagement Strategy:
When Cities (or anyone, really) do public engagement, it is good to know where on the spectrum your engagement lands. At one end, you are just informing people about a decision that was made by the City (“we have hired a new Chief Financial Officer”), at the other end you empower the public make the decision (“And the winner of the online poll is, Boaty McBoatface!”). When it comes to the engagement about this project, we are going to land around the consult part of the spectrum.
Council, in a public motion several months ago, asked Fraser Health to provide this service in New Westminster. The Health Authority has agreed, provided a funding model, and found a partner to provide the service though a procurement process. The location meets the provider’s needs, the Health Authority’s needs, and the client’s needs. What we intend to consult with stakeholders in the community on now are parameters around how the Health Contact Centre will operate. How we will ensure compliance with the City’s good Neighbour Policy, which partners are responsible for any mitigation efforts for negative community impacts if they occur, and how communications with the community should work. The City has set up an engagement site where some questions may already be answered, and you can provide feedback.
And that was all we had on the agenda. See you all next week!