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Ken Sim must not allow Yaletown OPS to close without an alternative site

If ABC does not intervene, the lease on life-saving facility will end in March 2024 - and any disruption in service will cost lives

VANCOUVER (Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Territory) - On July 19, 2024, the City of Vancouver informed Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) that the City would “not be in a position to renew the lease” on the life-saving Yaletown Overdose Prevention Site (OPS).

“Closing the Overdose Prevention Site without opening another, similar facility in the neighbourhood is unacceptable,” said Councillor Christine Boyle, OneCity Vancouver. “ Any interruption or reduction in services will very likely lead to more drug poisoning deaths. The Mayor and ABC majority have the power to intervene. They must renew the site’s lease until a new permanent site is ready to open in the same neighbourhood.”

The letter made no mention of an alternative site in the Yaletown neighbourhood having been located. It only committed the City to working with VCH to “[find] locations to site key health services across the city as feasible.”

The Yaletown OPS is one of the most-used overdose prevention sites in the city. Nearly 250 Vancouver residents have died from poisoned drugs so far this year, and more than 3,000 Vancouver residents have died since the drug toxicity public health emergency was declared in 2016. 

ABC Vancouver, and in particular, Councillor Peter Meiszner, have repeatedly and publicly indicated that they would keep the OPS in Yaletown open until another suitable location in the neighbourhood was opened. They must keep their promise.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that if services at this OPS are disrupted, some of our neighbours will die,” continued Boyle. “I am calling on the Council majority to keep their promise. I am calling on them to prioritize keeping people alive, by extending this lease until improved services are available.”

The site, named after OPS volunteer Thomus Donaghy, opened in 2021. At the time, the Downtown South neighbourhood had the highest number of drug poisoning deaths outside the Downtown Eastside - making the case for overdose prevention services clear.

While the present site of the Yaletown OPS is understood to have insufficient indoor space, under the pre-2021 status quo, a mobile unit, there was no indoor space at all. The usage numbers for the Yaletown site make it clear that a mobile service would be insufficient to serve this community. Additionally, downsizing existing services to a mobile unit will result in increased impacts to the surrounding neighbourhood.

Reverting to the pre-2021 status quo would not solve any problems. It would only make them worse.

Currently the City funds cleaning and security services at the site. But in order for this life-saving facility to be successful long-term, funding is needed from the Province and VCH, to ensure integration of health and social services into this neighbourhood and others.

“I offer whatever support I can provide to the Mayor and ABC in helping them to keep overdose prevention services in Yaletown - at this site, or another improved site,” concluded Boyle. “Our neighbours’ lives literally hang in the balance. We must take this seriously and work together to keep our neighbours safe and alive.”

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