A chocolatier says she is closing her storefront in downtown Sudbury, Ont., for a short time because people have been openly using drugs outside her front door.
While she said she doesn’t feel unsafe downtown, Tammy Maki added that many of her customers have been uneasy being around people experiencing homelessness and opioid addiction in the downtown core.
She said open drug use downtown has had a negative effect on foot traffic to her business and others.
“The perception is much worse than it actually is, but unfortunately, that perception leads to people not coming here,” Maki said.
“And that only lets what’s going on outside perpetuate and get larger, so it’s like a snowball effect. It makes me really sad.”
Maki said she calls Sudbury police several times a day because of open drug use outside her business and more funding is needed for social services to support people struggling with addiction.
“There has to be something else in place,” she said.
The Downtown Sudbury Business Improvement Association (BIA) said it’s “ramping up” a program to bring more businesses to vacant storefronts in the downtown core.
Through the zero-vacancy program, business owners pay a discounted rate for rent on a rolling 30-day lease.
Bringing more people downtown
Jeff MacIntyre, the group’s co-chair, said the goal is to bring in more businesses downtown and increase foot traffic from potential customers.
“When you have more people on the street, more eyes on the street, it creates safety,” he said.
“We’ve seen that in downtowns across Ontario.”
MacIntyre said having more people frequenting downtown businesses would help “deal with” open drug use in the area.
“Obviously it’s not going to solve drug use, but it will allow people to have a more comfortable experience when they’re downtown.”
MacIntyre said the downtown BIA has also helped improve lighting in some areas and put up gates to prevent people from congregating in certain areas.
The reality of the situation is the more people are pushed out of sight, the more people have to hide, the more people will die.– Kaela Pelland, Réseau ACCESS Network
But Kaela Pelland, director of peer engagement with Réseau ACCESS Network in Sudbury, called that “anti-homeless infrastructure.”
Réseau ACCESS Network provides harm reduction services and manages the city’s supervised consumption site.
“The reality of the situation is the more people are pushed out of sight, the more people have to hide, the more people will die,” Pelland said.
She said that when people use drugs alone, and in secret, there is a “very high” risk of death.
Pelland said more compassion is needed to help disenfranchised people in the community.
A summit on toxic drugs
To help improve that support, Sudbury Mayor Paul Lefebvre said he’s hosting the Greater Sudbury Summit on Toxic Drugs on Dec. 7 and 8 in collaboration with Public Health Sudbury and Districts.
“There’s over 165 community organizations that are at the forefront of dealing with social services as well as over 720 some programs and services out there right now,” Lefebvre said.
The summit will bring many of those services together, along with the hospital, to discuss how they can work together and make the best use of existing resources.
Lefebvre said the city has never invested more in social services than it does now, but the problems surrounding the toxic drug supply are getting worse.
Nicole Gauthier, a health promoter with Public Health Sudbury and Districts, said opioid-related deaths have increased by almost 60 per cent in Ontario since 2018. In Greater Sudbury, those deaths have increased by 193 per cent.
Last year, there were 112 opioid-related deaths in the district, she said.
Gauthier said the toxic drugs summit in December will bring different people and organizations together to work on solutions.
“The goal is to collectively improve our community’s response and create actionable consensus, really committing to concrete next steps that will help to address the toxic drug crisis and save lives in our community,” she said.