Health unit still working to secure lease for city-approved consumption and treatment services site

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More than two months after Windsor city council narrowly approved a drug consumption and treatment clinic at 628 Goyeau St., the health unit has yet to finalize a lease agreement and is considering instead setting up shop elsewhere.

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Although the Board of Health in October selected the Goyeau site over one at 101 Wyandotte St. E. — a stone’s throw away — following lengthy community consultation, the Star has learned that the health unit is still working to procure a location. Until an address is finalized, the health unit cannot apply for approval from Health Canada and the provincial Ministry of Health, steps necessary to get a permanent clinic up and running.

When asked if the Goyeau Street property owner was not responding to correspondence from the health unit, abandoning the planned CTS clinic, health unit CEO Nicole Dupuis in an email said the organization “does not comment on rumours.” She added, “Any lease negotiations we are involved in are confidential and we are not able to provide any details until negotiations have concluded.”

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In response to follow-up questions asking if the health unit is still pursuing a CTS site at 628 Goyeau Street, and if the health unit still hopes to see the site up and running at that address this year, spokesperson Mike Janisse in an email said no further comments would be provided.

The health unit has for years been jumping through hoops to establish a place where people can safely use their own drugs under medical supervision and access wraparound services. A pivotal step in that process was getting city council’s approval for the chosen Goyeau Street site, which council granted on Jan. 17. Council’s address-specific motion from that meeting does not appear to leave room for the health unit to switch the site’s location.

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The future safe injection site at 628 Goyeau St., is seen on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.
The future safe injection site at 628 Goyeau St., is seen on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Coun. Rino Bortolin, who sits on the Board of Health, is a member of the CTS operational steering committee, and in whose ward the clinic will go, told the Star the health unit is pursuing a site in the “general location” previously identified, not necessarily at 628 Goyeau St.

“But it doesn’t mean that we’ve given up on that (Goyeau Street) address, either,” he said. “It’s a work in progress and they’ve been negotiating with both to make sure that we have something to move forward with, that the application moves ahead.”

Had the health unit signed a lease agreement ahead of city council’s January vote, the health unit “would be on the hook for paying out upwards of six to nine months of rent” if the city denied approval, Bortolin said. The Board of Health decided it would be “more prudent to get a commitment in principle and then negotiate final terms once we had approval.”

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A city hall source told the Star the health unit’s difficulty in obtaining a lease agreement calls into question the presentation made to council earlier this year. While the city is still “trying to get to the bottom of what this means,” the initial understanding is that it’s not possible to swap sites. If the health unit lands a new site not covered by previous community consultations, it’s likely the process should restart, the source said, with a new location brought before council.

“The reaction internally is, it seems like there wasn’t enough due diligence completed before this matter was brought before council,” the source said.

“We have no indication about when they (the health unit) actually plan to make the applications. Their desire to come to council hot and heavy early this year to get these approvals was selling council a pig in a poke.”

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The future safe injection site at 628 Goyeau St., is seen on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.
The future safe injection site at 628 Goyeau St., is seen on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

The source added that the city and health unit “should look at this as an opportunity to refocus this conversation and come to the table for a new solution that can be widely accepted.”

Ahead of submitting applications to Health Canada and the Ministry of Health for approval of a permanent CTS clinic, Bortolin said the Board of Health can decide to submit a separate “quicker” application to the province to open a temporary clinic. The health unit would have to run a temporary site through its current budget, but could do so without approval from city council or Health Canada, he said.

“Right now, we’re looking at all the options as far as what can happen the fastest,” Bortolin said, adding that he questions why the process to open the clinic is so cumbersome.

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“If this was any other type of health service, you wouldn’t have to jump through all these hoops.

“(The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit) is committed to getting this open as soon as possible. Nothing that they’ve done has slowed the process down. It’s just a matter of, there are issues that come up and negotiating the lease is one of them.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, a glance inside the Goyeau site’s front window revealed a unit in disarray filled with mismatched furniture, exercise equipment, broken mirrors, and cardboard boxes. The Wyandotte location a few meters away was mostly empty, with a few desks and chairs, a floor covered in dust and screws, and a “for rent” sign in the window.

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