A heart-wrenching story out of Moncton, New Brunswick last week caught my eye and it made me think about its twin city – North Bay.
The CBC piece Nov. 28 was fairly in-depth considering how little time had passed since a 35-year-old male had been released from provincial jail into a cold November morning. Initially without seasonal clothes or the shelter promised, Luke Anthony Landry, was dead before sunrise – found overdosed in a public washroom outside city hall.
His mother described a chillingly-familiar scenario where she had years ago sent her son to Moncton for addiction treatment. Why he was imprisoned and for how long wasn’t clear, although she said drugs were the root of most of his troubles.
The reporter also talked to the executive director of an overdose prevention site that provides a safe place and support for clients. She couldn’t find a room at cities in shelters and there was no overflow plans or money to book a hotel room.
Landry was one of two overdose deaths that night, and to add to the bungled systemic breakdown, police advised a family their son had died without confirmation.
It happened a couple of days after the faux ground-breaking announcement in North Bay at the former Chrysler car dealership site on Lakeshore Drive (near the intersection with Marshall Avenue). I say ‘faux’ partly because they used a wood-framed sandbox for officials and dignitaries to replicate a ground-breaking. The irony is that they’ll likely not want to break the surface of the property as its former use to service vehicles likely left behind contaminants.
The province is giving Canadore College just under $8 million for the $20M project, with the college intent on getting a 53-unit addiction treatment centre up and running by next summer. It’s officially called the Northern Ontario Treatment Centre of Excellence and part of a Healing, Education and Wellness (HEW) hub.
You’d think it would be warmly embraced by the city’s health service community, yet I sense little and see less. And for good reason.
The pressing need identified by local groups is operational dollars to deliver the out-patient treatment, individual support and continuum of care model that has been identified as the better path.
Residential beds go empty because people with addictions are often needed to continue employment and support households. Several hundred people have been helped that way in the city over the past year. And it is the availability of support treatment that keeps some individuals heading in a better direction for longer periods.
It’s not clear to everyone how the Lakeshore Drive centre, described as being part of larger pilot project, dovetails with the strategies developed locally under previous Ministry of Health dictates. Is this funding taking away from other funding?
I’m told the untold millions thrown at the homelessness priority with transitional housing at the former OPP headquarters off Chippewa Street includes 60 units but there is only operational dollars for less than a third of that number.
The Moncton story and thinking about the local treatment centre project also brought to mind a friend of mine who came here for residential treatment in North Bay – twice. The first time, after waiting months and re-arranging many of his responsibilities back home, he was kicked out for taking two Tylenols instead of one. After returning weeks later for treatment, he went back to his community without the proper supports available and relapsed, drowning in that unforgiving and unfeeling spiral that comes with opiate addiction. For the judge, jury and executioners out there, his problems started or at least linked to the pain relievers prescribed while being treated for skin cancer.
Yesterday, I saw a social media post by another friend who I met not many years ago. He’s currently despondent over the ‘red-tape and wait’ roller coaster that never ends. I think it’s the bottle drowning his soul while giving life to sorrow.
Maybe it’s just hard for me to trust provincial strategies when they include a ‘Centre of Excellence’ of any kind. It triggers memories of Postmedia’s way of laying off the Nugget’s local production and composing departments, replacing them with regional ‘Centres of Excellences’ like they had in Barrie and Hamilton. It was, as you might expect, far less than excellent.
Coun. Mac Bain had a practical perspective on the Lakeshore project, which was explained during a pre-election candidate interview in October. We had been talking about how the city and province were dealing with the influx of homeless and drug-involved who are dropped off here by other community service agencies. He said nobody seems to check to see if there is the capacity for more and the province wants to make sure people get what they need in their own communities.
At about the 15:40 mark I asked about how that jives with the treatment centre, which will likely bring in more people to North Bay who are struggling.
Basically, Bain said the province liked Canadore’s submission better than what the local experts thought would work so, the money is coming, let’s give it a chance and see if that works.
OK. I get it. The province calls the tune and there’s really not much choice in the matter.
It’s important to remember, however, that people die when we get things wrong and don’t learn from past mistakes.
And just because there’s a policy that says something about a “continuum of care” that doesn’t mean there will be resources available to provide it.
Every city across Canada is facing this same issue and the solutions always point to how the funding is split up. I hope those involved realize the responsibility for the result is permanently connected to the money.
Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses meant as Letters to the Editor can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact the writer directly, email: email@example.com or check out his website www.smalltowntimes.ca