People who live and work near a distressed area of downtown Ottawa say they are running out of options to deal with the fentanyl crisis that has devastated several blocks of the Lowertown community.
There are so many drug users sitting or lying on part of the Murray Street sidewalk that community workers have nicknamed the area “the beach.”
Louise Beaudoin, the charge nurse at the supervised injection site located at Shepherds of Good Hope, one of three nearby shelters, said her employees responded to seven overdoses in a recent eight-hour shift.
Now, he said, they are dealing with an increase in violence.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ve never felt threatened. But for three or four years, we have security guards 24 hours a day because the level of violence has increased dramatically,” Beaudoin told Radio-Canada in a interview in french
Pastor Gordon Belyea said police sometimes call for help because his church on King Edward Avenue has surveillance cameras outside.
I saw two people die [of an overdose] “In both cases, the man was alone and people were walking away. Completely alone, abandoned. That’s shocking.”
Dealing with drug problems and homelessness in the area has become part of the daily routine for many.
“They’re like zombies,” said Paul Viau, a resident who says he’s been robbed twice in the past three months.
“My son, who is 10 now, doesn’t like coming here. He sees it all the time.”
At a Lowertown day care center, an educator combs the yard every morning for syringes.
“Every day there is something,” Tea Markovic, who takes her son to the nursery, told a French-language journalist. “Things we don’t want our children to see.”
A resident said he was trapped inside his home after someone passed out outside his door. Other times they find droppings.
Arrests drop despite worsening problem
According to police statistics, arrests for drug possession decreased 36 percent last year compared to 2021. Arrests of suspected drug dealers also decreased.
“We have limited resources, so how can we be precise in using those resources in the most efficient way possible?” Const asked. Paul Stam, a community police officer who recently took reporters on a tour of the area.
Stam told Radio-Canada that officers only intervene when things turn violent.
“It’s just not an effective and efficient use of resources to constantly arrest them, feed them into the criminal justice system, push them back into the cycle of criminalization, and then never address these deeper, complex issues.”
According to Ottawa paramedics alone, they have administered more than 300 naloxone injections this year across the city.
Equipped with long tongs and a collection box, Chris Grinham, a Lowertown resident of 24 years, regularly collects syringes at the housing cooperative where he works.
“Some days you find three or four, other days you find 30 or 40,” he said.
In 2018, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) My dear recovered more than 1.7 million syringes across the city, including needle drop boxes, harm reduction programs, and “needle chasers” like Grinham.
In 2022, that number was closer to 2.5 million.
The nearby Sandy Hill Community Health Center says it received approximately 18,000 total visits to its supervised injection site in 2021, with 871 unique visitors. There are two other sites in the area, along with a city mobile site in a van.
OPH estimates an average of five deaths a week from suspected drug-related overdoses since the beginning of the year, according to preliminary data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. In 2022, Ottawa recorded 141 deaths.
Hostels, services concentrated in the market
Grinham doesn’t like to call the police, but he does when things get aggressive.
“I want to say that most of them are not bad people,” he observed. “They’re just in a bad situation.”
The shelters in the area are overflowing, although not everyone uses them.
Julie Archambault, who lives on the streets during the day and sleeps with a friend at night, is too afraid of shelters.
He said dealers of all kinds are drawn to the concentration of homeless and addicted people.
“There is violence, against girls and boys, and they abuse people here in the shelter,” she said in French. “He forces them to work on the street. They treat them like animals.”
Neighborhood councillor, Stéphanie Plante, is among those who prefer services to be distributed throughout the city rather than concentrated in such a small geographical area.
“If tomorrow we put all the libraries, all the stadiums, all the swimming pools in Hall 12, you’d say, ‘Hey, that’s not right!’ Councilman Rideau-Vanier said.
A group of ByWard Market retailers want to meet with the mayor to discuss the pressure their businesses are facing.
“This really has to be a priority,” Stam said during the tour.
“If we’re going to have this level of services and this concentration of services here, the number one priority has to be to reduce the impact on the surrounding community to zero.”
Others have recommended the legalization of hard drugs, arguing that their criminalization only makes the problem worse.
Archambault asks all the politicians in Ottawa for help.
“Please give the help they need,” he said in French. “And please wake up here in Ottawa. All governments. We must help them because they are dying here.”