The mayor of Belleville, Ont., says local efforts to tackle the city's mental health, substance use and homelessness crisis haven't been enough, and is calling for millions in provincial funding for a community hub and detox centre.
Neil Ellis declared an emergency on Thursday, calling on upper levels of government for help.
Officials said 23 people overdosed in Belleville between Tuesday afternoon and Thursday morning. Witnesses described multiple people collapsing at the same time.
On Monday, the mayor's office issued a news release with two specific requests for provincial funding, adding he hopes they'll be fast-tracked.
"Governments move very slow," Ellis said. "We need action now."
The first request is for "investment, guidance and support" for The Bridge, a community hub that's currently under development.
The second request is for investment to create a detox centre.
Ellis said he's talked with Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith about the need for a detox centre "many times."
As for the hub, the city invested $2 million into a former banquet hall on Alhambra Square six months ago. The mayor said he asked the province for support at the time, but hadn't heard back.
In the wake of last week's overdose emergency, Ellis said it's clear those facilities are needed.
Province says request under review
He's requesting $2 million from the province to fill a funding gap so the centre can begin delivering services currently offered at a local church where a cluster of overdoses occurred last week.
"Unfortunately, our efforts are not having the intended effect and are clearly not enough," he said. "Our city, its local businesses, residents and most importantly the vulnerable population need more."
Officials in Belleville plan to turn this former banquet centre into a community hub called The Bridge, which will provide food, showers and other supports for the area's vulnerable residents. (Dan Taekema/CBC)
A spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Health Sylvia Jones said in a statement Thursday that the province is working with the local health unit to respond to "overdoses caused by a laced drug," and pointed to nearly $40 million in recent investments in the area.
CBC reached out to the province again on Monday for a response to Belleville's latest calls for funding. The same spokesperson said the request is under review.
A 'brutal' few days
Sheila Braidek, executive director at Belleville & Quinte West Community Health, said the past few days have been difficult for the city's most vulnerable and those who support them.
"Extreme drug poisoning events are brutal," she said. "There's no other word."
Braidek, who's helping lead the push to set up a hub, said the name was chosen intentionally. "The Bridge: as in a bridge to services, a bridge to support a bridge to community."
Sheila Braidek, executive director at Belleville & Quinte West Community Health Centre, says the past few days have been 'brutal' for the city. (Dan Taekema/CBC)
Belleville police Chief Mike Callaghan said he believes the change in approach is necessary, otherwise the community will keep "spinning our wheels in the sand."
"If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome, we're there," Callaghan added.
On Monday, emergency officials said they suspect some sort of powerful sedative has been mixed with the local drug supply, because in some cases patients aren't responding to naloxone.
Callaghan said local public health officials have set up a protocol with their provincial counterparts whereby any samples taken from suspected overdoses or drug poisonings will be analyzed within 24 to 48 hours in order to help identify what they're facing.
In the meantime, the chief said, police are actively investigating who's bringing the tainted drugs into the city.