Needle exchange told to clean up or be evicted
Landlord gives facility a month
Cindy E. Harnett
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
AIDS Vancouver Island's needle exchange has been given a month by its landlord to clean up its act or face eviction.
"The clock is ticking, we need a solution quickly," Andrea Langlois, AVI spokeswoman, said yesterday. "The solutions lie in the hands of the [Vancouver Island] Health Authority."
The agency's needle exchange -- one of many services funded by VIHA and run by the agency from its headquarters at Blanshard and Cormorant streets -- has been served a notice of complaint. That complaint asks for the end of loitering and defacement of public and private property. If the conditions are not met, an eviction notice will be effective May 2008.
The needle exchange has been controversial for at least a year because some of the homeless addicts loiter outside, urinate and defecate, leaving behind a trail of dirty syringes, blood and human waste.
Opened in 1988, the needle exchange has 1,600 registered users and 25,000 visits a year. In 2006-07, it distributed 740,000 needles and had 104 per cent returned, meaning more needles came into the centre for disposal than were given out.
A lawsuit aimed at temporarily shutting down the service was filed in B.C. Supreme Court on July 5 by a group of neighbouring businesses and residents. The lawsuit was filed against the Ministry of Health, VIHA, AVI and landlords Yentel Property Management Inc., whose owners include David Siegel and Max Josephson.
Victoria lawyer Stewart Johnston, whose Amelia Street law firm is off Cormorant Street and is one of the parties seeking a temporary injunction, said he's glad the landlord has now served AVI with a complaint notice.
"I'm pleased with this development. It's not exactly where we wanted the lawsuit to go but ..."
Johnston said the needle-exchange is "inadequate" and can't continue operating the way it is now. It must be shut down or moved so it can be expanded to run properly, he said.
Marilyn Callahan, AVI board chairwoman, said the landlords, who could not be reached for comment, have been patient. Although she doesn't think the needle exchange will shut down, she said it would have a devastating impact if it did. "This kind of a deadline forces us all to come together and look at it," she said. "I think [shutting it down] would be a terrible mistake. Every city has one. It's proven to be the best way to stop the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C infections."
In February, AVI announced that it needed more funding to adequately run an expanded service at a new location.
And this summer it released a document detailing it needs $585,000 -- more than double its current operating budget -- for an approximate 3,000-square-foot building, close to downtown. That would allow for a supervised 50-person drop-in centre, courtyard, toilets, showers, kitchen, counsellors' offices and storage space.
VIHA chief operating officer Mike Conroy said a third-party review of best practices around needle exchanges so as to address the "public order" problem should provide recommendations by the end of next week.
VIHA also expects recommendations from a task force set up by the mayor, due to be released at the end of this week, will also provide a piece of the puzzle in terms of solutions.
Conroy said VIHA hopes to develop a plan both the public and the landlords will find acceptable.
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007