NEIGHBOURS SUE TO SHUT DOWN NEEDLE EXCHANGE
Downtown Problems Could Get Worse If Exchange Has To Use Funds For Legal Fees, Says Mayor
Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe warns downtown's problems could become a lot worse if the cash-strapped needle-exchange must use its limited money and time fighting legal action by area businesses and residents.
A suit aimed at shutting down the downtown needle exchange was filed in B.C. Supreme Court Thursday afternoon.
"It doesn't help the needle exchange when they have to use their money and time to defend the injunction," Lowe said. "That will just mean less dollars to operate the needle exchange, which could mean even more problems in that area."
Fifteen plaintiffs who live and work near the Cormorant Street service - - where up to 2,000 addicts trade dirty needles for clean ones - claim the program is a nuisance.
Victoria lawyer Stewart Johnston, whose Amelia Street law firm is off Cormorant, supports an expanded and properly run service, but said he's fed up waiting for change.
AIDS Vancouver Island is funded by the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
"If they are going to do it, they should do it right," Johnston said. "Right now, it's a half-hearted measure that draws addicts to our neighbourhood."
With no enclosed outdoor area for them to go, homeless addicts loiter outside, urinate, defecate and leave behind a trail of dirty syringes, blood and human waste around Cormorant Street, he said.
Danielle Topliss, a lawyer in his firm, said in a community forum hosted by A-Channel television station Friday that the only people benefiting from the underfunded and underserviced program are drug dealers.
AIDS Vancouver Island operates its seven-day, two-person needle exchange on a $250,000 budget. The agency said its funding has been frozen since the early 1990s, despite a huge spike in demand. Since 1996, the number of syringes distributed has jumped to one million from 128,000, and clients have increased to 2,000 from 545, according to the agency.
It wants $585,000 - more than double its current operating budget - to run an expanded needle exchange in a new location, possibly Rock Bay. The expanded site would include a supervised 50-person drop-in centre, courtyard, toilets, showers, kitchen, counsellors' offices and storage space.
Despite the legal action, Katrina Jensen, AIDS Vancouver Island's director of programs, said the service has broad support. "I cannot see us being shut down," she said.
The four defendants listed in the statement of claim - the Ministry of Health, VIHA, AIDS Vancouver Island and landlords Yentel Property Management Inc. - were served papers yesterday, Johnston said.
The statement of claim alleges landlord Yentel Properties has enough control over the property to prevent the nuisance caused by the needle exchange.
Those served papers yesterday will file a statement of defence. A one-day hearing with a judge is expected in late August or early September, Johnston said.
The preliminary application is for a temporary injunction until the service can be permanently closed. The latter case could take a year or two to be heard, Johnston said.
The city's mayor and VIHA chief medical health officer Richard Stanwick agree the needle exchange needs more funding. AIDS Vancouver Island and VIHA are currently in budget negotiations expected to conclude in weeks.
"We've always supported the needle exchange and we've always been telling the health authority that we need to fund these existing programs properly," Lowe said. "We'll continue to try to get funding for the social services necessary in our city."
Stanwick said yesterday the needle exchange helps prevent the spread of blood-borne infections that cost lives and money. One HIV/AIDS patient costs the health-care system about $250,000 over his or her lifetime.