Manitoba

Harm-reduction advocates welcome funding commitment for Winnipeg supervised consumption site

Advocates for people struggling with addictions and homelessness celebrated the Manitoba NDP government’s plan to open a supervised consumption site in Winnipeg by next year, saying it will save lives and help put people on the path to recovery.

Preliminary consultations set for this year, operation plan expected in 2025

An injection kit is shown at a supervised drug injection facility in Vancouver.
A supervised consumption site would offer sterilized needles and other consumption equipment, with staff on hand to help in the event of an overdose. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Advocates for people struggling with addictions and homelessness celebrated the Manitoba NDP government's plan to open a supervised consumption site in Winnipeg by next year, saying it will save lives and help put people on the path to recovery.

The 2024 budget includes $2.5 million toward a supervised consumption site, which will provide sterile needles and other consumption equipment, with staff on hand to help in the event of an overdose and to connect users to support services.

The NDP promised to set up the province's first supervised consumption site in Winnipeg, making it part of Housing, Addictions and Homelessness Minister Bernadette Smith's mandate. 

But the government needs to take the next year to consult with community groups about where to put the site, and what supports and programming are needed, Premier Wab Kinew said on Tuesday.

Setting up a supervised consumption site is "a big step, and we have to take the time to get it right," Kinew said.

"We're going to take the time to talk to community, to talk to experts, to stand up this new facility in the right way."

A location for the site has yet to be chosen, but Kinew said they are considering somewhere in the area of north Main Street.

"We know that there are going to be impacts on the neighbourhood wherever this is located. So we want to figure out how  to mitigate that. We want community buy-in."

The province is considering a proposal from an Indigenous-led consortium to establish the site, Kinew said. That group is led by the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre and includes community partners Sunshine House, Ka Ni Kanichihk, Manitoba Harm Reduction Network, Main Street Project and Substance Consulting.

Safer supply

Kim Bailey, director of prevention, testing and wellness at Nine Circles Community Health Centre, called it a "good day in Manitoba," but added she wants to see the service expanded to more areas.

Manitoba NDP approves supervised consumption site

2 months ago
Duration 2:14
After years of debate, Winnipeg is set to get a supervised consumption site. The Manitoba budget released Tuesday includes funding to begin consultations.

"We hope this is just the beginning of a provincial strategy that provides an important life-saving service to other neighbourhoods in Winnipeg and across the province," she said.

Bailey also wants the province to look at taking a further step to harm reduction by committing to safer supply – providing prescribed medication as an alternative to the toxic drug supply.

"There's lots of work going on in the country to show the benefits of a safer supply strategy. And so we should be looking towards those other jurisdictions to see what's working in that area and move quickly towards it, because it's really a toxic drug supply that's creating the overdose situation that we have in Manitoba."

According to preliminary data from the Manitoba chief medical examiner's office, there were 467 suspected substance-related deaths in Manitoba in 2022 — the highest on record. Preliminary data for 2023 show there were 445 deaths, a number that could rise.

When asked about the possibility of a safer supply program in Manitoba, Kinew said the Manitoba government is moving "one step at a time" and will follow where the evidence leads.

Manitoba is the last province west of Atlantic Canada that does not have a supervised consumption site. For more than a year, Sunshine House has operated a mobile overdose prevention site out of an RV, the closest Manitoba has to a permanent site.

A brown and black RV is parked in an outside lot.
Winnipeg-based organization Sunshine House has been operating an overdose prevention site out of an RV. (Alana Cole/CBC)

"No longer are we going to leave some tools in the toolkit and not use them for ideological reasons," Kinew said during a news conference on Tuesday, alluding to the refusal of the previous Progressive Conservative government to approve a supervised consumption site.

Interim PC Leader Wayne Ewasko said his government "pushed for safety."

"We stand by recovery first. I think Manitobans are going to have a lot of questions." 

Other advocates, like End Homelessness Winnipeg executive director Jason Whitford, welcomed the announcement.

"I think investing in a provincewide strategy or resources within the city is an indication that the government does care about the people on the streets that are losing their lives and struggling with addictions," he said.

Tessa Blaikie-Whitecloud, executive director of Siloam Mission, said her organization is responding to drug poisonings daily. 

"Supervised consumption sites have been shown to reduce drug use overall and to help people on that recovery journey," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron MacLean is a journalist for CBC Manitoba living in Winnipeg, where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience reporting in the city and across Manitoba, covering a wide range of topics, including courts, politics, housing, arts, health and breaking news. Email story tips to cameron.maclean@cbc.ca.