Belleville opioid emergency/crisis: timeline of responses and actions

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| Published , updated March 18, 2024

Background

On February 6, 2024, at 3:30pm, there were 13 overdose incidents within a 60-minute period and 17 in a 24 period in Belleville, Ontario – 9 of whom required transport to Belleville General Hospital hospital by ambulance. A suspected overdose around 3 a.m. February 9th found a patient in cardiac arrest and transported him to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

In November 2023, Belleville emergency services had to respond to 90 overdose calls in the span of one week. More stats can be seen on the Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) Opioid Monitoring Dashboard:

The situation in Belleville is not unique – it is a microcosm of what is happening across Ontario, and across Canada in cities both large and small, in rural regions, and in First Nations.

I thought the response to the crisis by elected officials, business owners and other local stakeholders could serve as a useful reference for residents as well as other communities, so I put together this timeline of all the statements, asks, responses and actions I could find.

The provincial government is primarily responsible for healthcare, addictions and mental health programs in Ontario

March 3, 2020 – Ford government’s Roadmap to wellness: a plan to build Ontario’s mental health and addictions system committed to investing $3.8B over 10 years to develop and implement a comprehensive and connected mental health and addictions system for Ontarians.

February 9, 2024 – Federal and Ontario governments announced a $3.1B bilateral agreement to improve health care in Ontario. This investment will help increase access to family doctors, reduce wait times, hire more health care workers, and ensure faster care for Canadians, including mental health care.

Ford government’s Your Health: A Plan for Connected and Convenient Care has made additional investments and innovative new programs, including opening eight new Youth Wellness Hubs, launching the Ontario Structured Psychotherapy Program and adding more than 150 new addiction treatment beds across the province.

The provincial government is primarily responsible for funding homelessness programs in Ontario, Hastings County is responsible for delivering funding and programs locally

  • Funding: The provincial government is primarily responsible for funding homelessness programs (68% of all funding in 2021, with municipalities providing 23% and federal government providing 9%), and primarily responsible for funding and delivery healthcare, including mental health (78% of all funding).
  • Delivery: The administration and organization of housing and homelessness-related services is a local responsibility, primarily through municipalities. The 47 Service Managers 2 Indigenous Program Administrators provide some services directly, but transfer the majority of provincial funding to third parties to actually deliver/provide services and supports locally.

Hastings County is Belleville’s Service Manager.

Timeline

Note: Timeline is in reverse-chronological order, with the latest update listed first. To start from the beginning, click here.

March 11, 2024 – Working group is developing a regional continuum of care operating model for submission to the Ministry of Health by the end of March 2024

According to a spokesperson for MPP Smith, following Associate Minister Michael Tibollo’s visit, a working group was formed with collaboration between Minister Tibollo’s team, Ontario Health, the Health Commons Solutions Lab and local stakeholders to build a regional continuum of care operating model with the goal of submission to the Ministry of Health by the end of March 2024.

The continuum of care model involves: “The Bridge Hub,” the detox centre, wrap-around services for mental health, addiction and stable housing.

The Canadian Mental Health Association has submitted a capital funding proposal to Ontario Health with the support of City Hall and as requested by MPP Smith. It will support the relocation of drop-in services to Alhambra Hall with staged renovations that would target a move of existing programming by the end of this year and the addition of additional services identified in the operations proposal within the next year.

Staff are having some discussions with the provincial government,

We are touring a couple of sites this week that they are looking at to consider building a detox centre.

CAO Rod Bovay to Council

March 11, 2024 – Neighbouring Cobourg receives $2.47M to provide housing options for the unhoused

MPP David Piccini announced that Northumberland County would receive $2.47M to support closing the homeless encampment in the Town of Cobourg and provide housing options for the unhoused and most vulnerable.

This came 3 months after Northumberland County finalized the purchase of 310 Division St for $2.3M for a 47 unit former retirement residence to serve as a shelter, drop-in center, and warming room to be run by a local independent non-profit organization.

February 27 – CBC’s Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco and producer Ryan Garland spend 48 hours in Belleville reporting on the State of Emergency

Downtown stakeholders participated in the report:

Part of our challenges are, we have just like a little community tip pot. People will come in, they will steal the money, particular individual that I have on video, she’s been in here five times. She goes right over to my customers, goes into their pockets and takes their money. I don’t have the budget to hire extra people to stop that.

Last Saturday I had to call 911 at 5:30, because someone was ODing out back. I have compassion for that, but it’s very challenging when you’re trying to run a business. Over to the right here used to be our stairs. We had a man and a wife living there and they were there for 2 weeks. They just literally wouldn’t leave because I had started giving them food.

There’s no one in this community that doesn’t want to help, but it’s at a level that it’s so difficult and we are enabling it.

Sheranda Griffiths, L’Auberge de France

Chaos, chaos destruction and lack of law and order. Smashed windows, people defecating, you can say homeless but I think a lot of that is addiction problems. Urinating anywhere, casting garbage everywhere, just a lack of respect for a community that feeds them.

Mark Turner, Restoration Services Inc.

What seems to be happening here that’s really affecting all of us is the drug culture and the drug dealing and the theft that happens with that. I personally feel that the one program that we have up the street is kind of broken because it’s really overflowing down into the businesses and it’s really affecting their livelihood.

Christopher Gentile, Christopher Gentile Photography

My worry is that if it doesn’t change, for the better people are really going to burn out and our community will suffer.

Kim Fedor, Property Manager for Buhran Developments Inc. which owns property downtown

For me, the general feeling is a lot of sympathy really. I mean this is part of our community, these are people that are loved ones to lots of you know friends and family, other employees, other businesses that we have. These are known people I don’t feel that we’re really doing enough.

Miriam Hoban, owner of Hillside House Studios

This is the epitome of a revolving door. I talk to people about the bail system and they go well, what do you mean they let hardcore drug dealers out that have guns on them?

I would say that this is the crux of poor policy and poor decision, all come to a head, all at the same time. You have a legal system that’s incredibly soft on crime and on criminals. You have a mental health system that’s quite frankly failing taxpaying and non-taxpaying citizens here in Ontario and things are kind of at their breaking point.

This is the result. You have people that are unmedicated, unwell and they’re medicating themselves with drugs on the street. They’re using fentanyl because they don’t want to feel anymore. They’re defeated.

If I charge someone for theft or mischief, they go to the courthouse, they get released because they’re trying to fund their addiction.

If I take them to the hospital, they don’t get held because they’re in a drug induced psychosis. It just seems that there’s just nowhere for these people to go.

It’s either I bring them to court, get them charged or charge them, and they’re not held accountable for the criminal act that they’re doing. I think it’s because of out of reasons of compassion, but then they’re also not being institutionalized.

I could introduce you to a couple people probably at 60 Bridge who would ramble on and make no sense – would not be able to have a full-fledged conversation like you or I are having right now, and that’s because of their mental health issues and for me not to be able to bring someone to a place that can actually look after that person. Right now, that type of a person cannot look after themselves, and they are being left on the street. That is frustrating.

Eventually it comes to head where we’re charging people for the crimes that they’re committing – smashing, windows, thefts, all the things that probably you’re hearing are affecting the downtown area and we’re sending them to the courts, and the courts are essentially saying: this person may be doing these things because they’re in the midst of a mental health crisis, and that would bring us to our bail system.

So our bail system, people are getting released left, right, and center for the same crimes over and over and over again.

I think the systems failed a lot of communities, not just Belleville. Just look at the last two weeks, I mean we’re talking about people dying in dumpsters. We’re talking about people that are dying on the front of a sidewalk that they’ve been released to.

I just shake my head and kind of go – how do the people that are in charge not see that they’re the ones causing some of this.

Constable Aaron Crawford, Belleville Police Services

February 27 – Belleville increases “The Bridge” funding $2M in 2024 Operating Budget to a total of $3M, funded by 1% property tax increase in a 6-2 vote

THAT 2024 Operating Budget item #D2-13, “The Bridge” funding be increased by $2,000,000, for an amended total of $3,000,000 to be funded by a 1% Tax Levy in 2024 and 2025, and the shortfall in funding be funded from the Tax Rate Stabilization Reserve fund: and

THAT any funding required in 2024 to be levied in 2025 is temporarily drawn from the Tax Rate Stabilization Reserve fund; and

THAT staff prepare a report for Council’s consideration outlining costs, risks and contractual obligations that will be included in the contractual agreement required to be executed by the service provider.

Ward 2 Councillors Carr and Brown voted against. Councillor Sean Kelly was out of the country and unable to attend the meeting.

Funding provided by the tax levy for an additional $1,178,800 plus $821,200 from the Tax Rate Stabilization Reserve Fund.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the City has with the John Howard Society has various securities and protections in place for this and previous funding. The funds will not be released until a full business plan is received by the City and other requirements are continually met over the term they are providing service. The MOU has been reviewed by the City’s lawyer and Council received in-camera a detailed critique of the agreement with areas that need to be addressed.

Councillor Carr would not support the motion, reiterating that it is provincial jurisdiction and the province has to solve the issue. Carr raised residents’ question: “how often is the municipal government going to solve a provincial issue?” and referenced the FAO report that the Province is sitting on $22.6B in unspent funding for education and healthcare, and the $3.1B in extra funding they will receive from the federal government for primary care announced in February 2024.

Councillor Brown would not support the motion, stating that everyone is struggling right now, residents pay provincial and federal taxes that are supposed to be funding these kind of projects and residents are expecting Council to be much more diligent. Brown pointed out that the goal posts keep moving from $1-2M, to $3-4 and now closer to $6M, and suggested Council wait until the Province is prepared to fund the long-term operating costs.

Councillor Thompson would support the motion, stating that Belleville was already subsidizing healthcare and other organizations through Hastings County and that they can’t wait 6 months to 1 year to take action for a business plan to be ready.

Councillor Malette would support the motion, stating “there are sirens right now outside this building”, we have to commit to it now, it’s an incremental tax increase, and in response to Councillor Carr’s question of “at what point do we stop calling the Province for what’s their responsibility?”, he asked “at what point do we admit we’ve got to look after our own now?” and pointed to the cries for help from emergency services, downtown businesses.

Councillor Chatten raised concerns about not having a business plan to ensure requirements are met and it solves the problem. Chatten’s vote was informed the Treasurer confirmed that the MOU ensures a business plan is provided before funding is issued.

Councillor Malette countered, saying that while spending $1M in 2024 and $1M in 2025 are valid concerns, Belleville is already funding social programs – contributing $12.7M to Hastings County ($6.7M to social housing, $2.3M to general assistance and $3.7M for long term care) in 2024. He asked “Should we be paying that? Is that a provincial responsibility? Perhaps.”, but pointed out that Council doesn’t hesitate at paying it.

I think we’re in a prime position where the Province is feeling some heat, and they know they’ve got to deliver and this is the time to strike when it’s hot. We go to AMO and we have the little hat in hand and we line up with 400 other municipalities, we do our little pitch. An hour later the Minister doesn’t know who he met. We’ve done that song and dance and we don’t achieve – oh yes, and the photo op – and we’ve been banging that drum for years.

I stopped going AMO because quite frankly, if you want to get things delivered you have to have the one-on ones in your municipality to point and go: there’s the problem, do you see it? And then they go: yes.

Well guess what, we have pointed to the Province and said: there’s a problem can you see it? And oh boy are they seeing it.

So this is the time where we maybe stop the bleeding so 26 million doesn’t become 27 and 28.

After we vote on this the staff will prepare a report for council’s consideration outlining costs risks and contractual obligations and they’ll be included in the contractual agreement.

We have an MOU with John Howard Society as far as the building goes, but we don’t have a contract, we don’t know the risks, and we don’t know the costs, but yet we’re being asked to vote on this. So going back to due diligence – costs are unknown, risks are unknown and contractual obligations are unknown.

Now, I hope this is successful and in the MOU we have it so that that property can come back to us. I’ll put it out there, that if this is not successful this is salvageable as a piece of property. I see it as an excellent medical clinic for doctor attraction worst case scenario. I’ll just throw that out there.

Councillor Carr

Given that we have the MOU in place and that there are protections for us in the MOU and that the money can be used down the road for other projects or even you know to decrease a tax amount in in a future year if it’s collected and not spent, I think about the community that I grew up in and I’m raising three little girls right now and they’re growing up in a different community than I grew up in and someday they’re going to ask me what I did to help on this issue and I’m not going to sit on my hands, so I’ll be voting in favor today.

Councillor Allsop

Mayor Ellis

So when I ran for mayor in 2006 I ran on doctor recruitment and it was a provincial issue and the mayor of the day said to me, on the stage, this is not our concern and I said yes it is, whatever affects our community is my concern if I’m mayor.

Is this affecting our community? Yes. Is it affecting our business community? Yes. Is it affecting condos being built over there, and condos being there? Yes. What are we going to do in risk? We can kick this down the road the province doesn’t anything – 15 years [the Province] haven’t done anything about doctor recruitment. The risk we have is our downtown, our business, our condos being built.

When I look at this – and I’m not saying that $38 a year is not a lot of money – it’s $3.81. If we can get them to a better facility 24 hours I watched the program last night the bridge was originally for 15 people, they have over 120 people drop in in there in a day.

The risk of not doing it means no condos built at The Intelligencer I don’t think. … Why would they want to build condos, why would anybody want to buy them there? When I look next door to the Quite Hotel, it’s the same. We can’t leave this here. We are losing economic money as the time ticks. We’re losing it for merchants downtown that are talking about maybe moving to Quite West, or moving here or moving to the mall, or moving right out of town, or closing. If we even were to be able to pull one of the condo projects off, it would be way more than the 2 million we’re asking to taxpayer in taxes within 2 to three years.

The risk of letting this go if they walk away from it and give the building back to us and say we’re not going to do it, the risk is it’s going to be at that church for the rest of my life, or until the next council has decided they’re going to do something about it.

What I’m looking for, is we need a continuum of care model and that’s what I’ve been pressing the province for and hopefully we will get there. The bridge is a low barrier, it plays one of the important things that we’ll have in a continuum of care. 24 hours drop in, your next stage would be a detox center or get well center with beds, then beds in the community. It would be built on along the whole continuum, is that what I’ve asked for, that’s what I’m trying to push for, that’s what we need, we need that whole model, but without the bridge we don’t have it.

When I look over there and we met with the businesses, a couple of people around the table. I’ve been in business myself, my heart bleeds for them. How do we get it better? Is moving it to one spot going to be better? Well, that’s a yes and a no question. ‘Till we get the rest of the pieces, yes, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

When you look at the facility that’s not purpose built – the bridge at Church Street, or a bridge on Bridge Street – it’s not purpose built. It was built for a church, it was built for a kitchen to feed a few people. Do they have services there, they’re trying to extend the services.

Worst case if they didn’t get financing from the government for the wraparound services, we’re still going to need a place for a warming center. We’re still going to need a place for a food kitchen and drop in. Then I guess that’s all up becomes for the first year ’till the government decides to pony up, but to leave them there, I don’t think that’s the answer. I think that’s shoving our head in the stand and not wanting to say these are tough decisions.

I had as many people phone me and talk to me about wanting us to put this money in as I did [from those not wanting] to put it in. The ones that did not want to put in: “close the church, you’re feeding them too much, kick them out of town, 33% are from out of town town, why are you feeding them”, that’s what I’m getting from those people. You know, if they knew that in the economic development factor, the economic development that that church, in that spot, is costing us, is costing us way more than what we’re going to risk and invest in.

It’s a tough decision. I’ve pounded the Province for three weeks now. Are they going to come through, well they never come through on doctor recruitment. Are they going to come up with something? I’ve been in talks with the minister, yes. What that is, I’m hoping for the long run, the whole continuation of care model. Every community needs them. There’s 110 people that church serve today, I’m sorry, but it’s going to be serving 140 next year, it’s going to be serving 200 the next year. The numbers are not going to go down ’till the Province does something. Can it get down overnight? No, I think we’re going to go up until the province comes in with something and hopefully then it’ll peak and go down. It’s the whole economy, every town has them. Cobourg – I wouldn’t even want to name them because I just keep going right. I think the risk is too great on our economy, on our downtown, on the condos that want to be built down here, would you want to buy a condo when you look at the wall there, the people in Century Place? No, I don’t blame them. It’s got to be moved, it’s outgrowing, it’s got to have wraparound services. This is the first step.

Mayor Neil Ellis

Council backs $2M in special tax levy to expedite The Bridge hub – The Intelligencer

February 27, 2024 – Council votes down redirecting the $1.3M Building Faster Fund funding from the Avonlough Project to The Bridge, and replace it with tax funded long-term debt in a 8-0 vote

The change would mean a 0.15% tax increase and a ~$180,000 principal and interest payment in tax-funded debt, instead of a 1% tax increase.

The $1.3M would be a meaningful start toward the estimated cost of The Bridge, with the hopes that the province would contribute additional funding. Mayor Ellis said that MPP Smith said the funds could be used towards The Bridge project according to Minister Calandra.

Councillor Brown brown brought up constituents’ concerns that the City was going ahead without proper due diligence, having a business plan, contract, knowing all the risks the risks and costs, citing that the $1M of pre-approved funding has not yet been advanced to them, because they’re not meeting the conditions of the MOU. Brown also stated that council needed to be a lot more conscientious about how quickly they approve things without having all the detail behind it, calling funding the bridge before receiving a business case a “giant leap of faith”.

Councillor Carr would not support the motion, bringing up constituents’ concerns that the City should hold its ground on provincial responsibilities. That health and housing are the responsibility of the province, and that Council should hold their ground on what is provincial vs municipal jurisdiction. Carr said that if the City fills the vacuum, Council is allowing the downloading of responsibility to occur, and urged that Council know and abide by their governmental jurisdiction.

Councillor Chatten would not support using taxpayer money for the project, until the organizations have a business plan and the province has supported it. Chatten pointed to the provincial jurisdiction, the pending applications by the organizations responsible for the project, that the City doesn’t have the staff to run the project, and the risk of the City having to do more and more over time.

Councillor Allsop said something has to be done to address the crisis, but it would be difficult to commit more taxpayer money before knowing what is going to happen, how much money is needed and what are they going to do with it once they have it. Allsopp described it as trying to hit a moving target, as the initial project funding was estimated to be $2M, now another $2M has been requested, and the ongoing operational structure is unclear.

[TBD] – Council pre-approves $1M in 2024 Operating Budget – D2-13 for “The Bridge”

Before the 2024 Operating Budget meeting, council had pre-approved providing $1,000,000 to fund the necessary renovations for “The Bridge” Health & Social Service Hub. Funding provided from the Tax Rate Stabilization Reserve Fund in 2024.

February 26 – Council approves rezoning of 1 Alhambra Sq (“The Bridge”)

February 21 – MPP Todd Smith says a business plan is required

What we need from the city and from the folks who are going to be operating the homeless hub is an actual detailed list of what everything is going to cost. It’s fine to ask for $2 million but when I go into Treasury Board, I have to tell them what the money is going to be spent on and right now we don’t have a detailed cost analysis or business plan on what it would cost to renovate the facility.

The best thing to do now is transfer operations at The Bridge over to the homeless hub as soon as possible in a staged approach offering services on the top floor for the time being while renovations occur on the lower level and eventually having services on the lower level and then do the renovations on the upper floor.

I’ve asked Treasury Board to consider supporting the project once I have that detailed cost analysis. I can’t just go into Treasury Board asking for $2 million without any evidence how this money is going to be spent. I know what answer I will get.

MPP Todd Smith

February 21 – Official Opposition critic calls on the provincial government to provide the funding

In the wake of a devastating series of overdoses, the Mayor of Belleville reached out to this government for urgent support to help prevent any further tragedies

He asked for simple, meaningful solutions to make sure that this never happens again. Incredibly, his calls were ignored by this government.

Yesterday, the Mayor of Belleville said that if the Province won’t help, they’ll have to find their own way to open a community hub to help people

Why is the Premier leaving the people of Belleville to deal with this crisis themselves, when solutions have been presented clearly to his government?

I am calling on the Conservatives to immediately provide funding for this desperately needed service hub and detox centre, and commit to reliable, ongoing support to address the addictions and mental health crisis

MPP Lisa Gretzky (Windsor West), Official Opposition critic for Mental Health and Addictions

February 22 – Ward 2 Councillors Brown and Carr hold a town hall meeting in advance of 2024 Operating Budget deliberations, including The Bridge

February 20 – Ford government denies $2M funding request, telling Belleville the money is not available and that they have to wait, requires Belleville to first come up with a mental health and addiction strategy

The City of Belleville has committed to investing roughly $3 million for the expanded initiative:

  • $2 million from last year’s budget to purchase the former banquet hall at [TBD]
  • $1 million to renovate it [TBD]

Ellis responded to the denial of funding

I’m not in any way disparaging or disrespecting the efforts of our provincial partners in their response to our calls for help in the past weeks, but it would be dishonest to say that we were satisfied … with the announcement made last week of $216,000.

There’s no support as of now for our two asks and it was noted that the capital for the hub would be a tough ask

We asked the province for $2 million and the answer was basically you’ll have to wait. As myself, as mayor of the city, it’s time to bring action. If we have to do it by ourselves, that’s what we will do.

Do we keep waiting [for provincial funding], I guess? Wait, wait and wait. We can’t, It’s peaked here, we need to get proper services. Bridge Street United Church facility has outgrown itself.

We can’t wait a month, we can’t wait three months

Our hope was to have this up and running by December this year.

Describing the situation as disappointing and frustrating. “We need to get proper services.”

Mayor Neil Ellis during a news conference

Ellis said that he was told by the province that Belleville must first come up with a mental health and addiction strategy.

CMHC: There is an existing request/strategy that has been submitted

This work will build on existing efforts that are already underway. Community engagement will help develop solutions that resonate with the people we aim to support and that are realistic and achievable.

This strategy will bring together a common voice set of needs and priorities. We are counting on all levels of government to match the investments the city is providing and to create a robust set of supports across the region.

Lisa Ali, the CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association – Hastings Prince Edward (CMHA – HPE)

Ontario Minister of Health Sylvia Jones: we gave you $216,000, CMHA-HPE’s longer-term project “will take years to be operational.”

Our government has worked with CMHA-HPE and other local leaders to identify the immediate needs of Belleville and surrounding communities, [providing more than $216,000 in one-time funding to] immediately increase staffing at local support services and increase the presence of community outreach teams as well as first responders within the downtown area.

This funding is in addition to the $35 million our government have invested in mental health and addictions support services in the Belleville area this year

Hannah Jensen, a spokesperson for Ontario Minister of Health Sylvia Jones in a statement

Belleville’s other requests remain under review, along with submissions for a longer-term project from Canadian Mental Health Association Hastings Prince Edward (CMHA HPE), though it “will take years to be operational.”

Ellis asks for funding to be expedited, gives the province a deadline

Ellis said that he hopes that the province come back with its response to Belleville’s strategy within 6 weeks to 2 months,

with the goals to expedite the direct funding and set in motion tangible changes to the manner in which we treat and manage mental health, unhoused, and addictions that are harming our city.

Mayor Neil Ellis

Ellis said the city won’t wait any longer and will go it alone if the province won’t step up, and will debate spending municipal funds for the project in budget deliberations Feb. 27-28 to set aside $2 million in Belleville’s next operating budget for the project, which he said he’d like to see “up and running” by the end of 2024.

That could mean a 1% tax hike, which would cost $40 on an assessment of $250,000, or about $3 a month. A levy or using long-term debt could also be used, all pending council approval.

Although it’s a provincial issue, it’s our issue also so it’s time that if we don’t get the answer, it’s time to move forward

It’s time for the province to step up, take responsibility, and act on the crisis that is in front of all communities. Addiction and unhoused: the face of this is in the majority of all cities in our province and across Canada. I challenge the upper governments to act now

Mayor Neil Ellis

Liberal critic: business case requirement in a state of emergency is preposterous

The idea that a business case needs to be presented while the mayor has declared a literal state of emergency is preposterous.

This is not a business decision, this is a question of lives, of health care, and the individual dignity of all of these people who are being swept up in the opioid crisis.

Adil Shamji, the Liberal critic for health, and a doctor

Director of Bridge Street United Church: plans for full costing are already underway

The Bridge hub meets the immediate needs of individuals experiencing homelessness, some of whom, are also experiencing substance abuse use harms and mental health issues while longer term system responses are implemented

Plans are already under way, said van de Hoef, to work with architects, to do full costing for The Bridge toward aggressive timelines.

Steve van de Hoef, Director of Bridge Street United Church

February 16 – HPEPH supports The Bridge, calls on elected officials to advocate for ongoing funding

As we have seen in recent weeks, the occurrence of drug poisoning continues to place strain on community and health services, and we must work together to identify and implement long-term solutions. Public Health recognizes that for many individuals experiencing addiction, using unregulated substances is not a choice, and we must approach this issue with compassion as we work to address this issue, together with community partners.

HPEPH supports the recent actions to expedite rezoning to allow The Bridge Integrated Care Centre to be established at 1 Alhambra Square. This facility aims to help connect individuals with critical services related to addictions and mental health.

Dr. Ethan Toumishey, HPEPH Medical Officer of Health

February 15 – Drug test results finds opioid, benzodiazepine and xylazine

HPEPH reported that Health Canada’s Drug Analysis Service (DAS) and Cannabis Laboratory (CL) found that the most recent drug sample collected by police around the time of last week’s spike in drug poisonings in the community included the “presence of an opioid, a benzodiazepine and xylazine.”

Xylazine is an tranquilizer currently only approved for use by vets to control an animal’s heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. It was first detected in Toronto’s unregulated drug supply in October 2019. Illicit fentanyl emerged in Ontario in 2015.

Combining xylazine with opioids or central nervous system depressants like benzodiazepines or alcohol can significantly depress these vital functions, increasing the risk of overdose and death.

When mixed with fentanyl, it’s known as “tranq” or “zombie dope” and can cause painful wounds that lead to amputation.

HPEPH media release email

Naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, does not have any effect on the tranquilizer or on benzodiazepines (or “benzos”), reinforcing the need to call 911.

February 15 – Mayor Neil Ellis meets with MPP Todd Smith and Michael Tibollo, associate minister of mental health and addictions

Meeting was to discuss the increase in drug overdoses in the region and involved:

  • Mayor Neil Ellis
  • MPP Todd Smith
  • Michael Tibollo, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions
  • Canadian Mental Health Association Hasting Prince Edward (CMHA HPE)
  • Other community partners

MPP Todd Smith and Ontario’s Associate Minister for Mental Health and Addictions, Michael Tibollo toured the proposed Bridge Hub facility the previous week.

Mayor Neil Ellis

Ellis requested funding for the hub again, but said he would also ask city staff to come up with options for the city to pay for it on its own.

That could mean a 1% tax hike, a levy or using long-term debt, he said, all pending council approval.

It’s time to bring action

If we have to … do it by ourselves, that’s what we will do.

Mayor Neil Ellis

MPP Smith

Afterwards, he announced in a private press release that Ontario is providing more than $216,000 in one-time stabilization funding for Canadian Mental Health Association Hastings-Prince Edward programs to increase the number of first responders in downtown Belleville and to increase staffing at local outreach services.

The announcement could not be found on his website, Facebook or Instagram which are almost solely handshakes, smiles and baby-kissing.He posted a mention of the meeting to Twitter/X, but did not specify the amount of the support or mention the other local initiatives that Belleville is working toward: “The Bridge” health and social-services hub and a detox centre

According to a spokesperson for MPP Smith, following Associate Minister Michael Tibollo’s visit, a working group was formed with collaboration between Minister Tibollo’s team, Ontario Health, the Health Commons Solutions Lab and local stakeholders to build a regional continuum of care operating model with the goal of submission to the Ministry of Health by the end of March 2024.

Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones

A spokesperson for Health Minister Sylvia Jones (Sylvia.Jones@pc.ola.org) said the province is focused on immediate support, pointing to the same $216,000.

Belleville’s other requests remain under review, along with submissions for a longer-term project from Canadian Mental Health Association Hastings Prince Edward (CMHA HPE), though it “will take years to be operational.”

February 13DBIA business owners meet to vent their anger and frustration

Sans Souci’s banquet room to vent their anger and frustration at Belleville city council’s handling of the ongoing drug and homelessness crisis, which they feel is affecting their livelihood and putting their businesses in peril.

All speakers agreed that the efforts of the church are commendable and deserve recognition, but they contribute to “enabling” the drug users who then have money to buy drugs if their food is free.

DBIA members presented a sample letter of protest which it urged all attending to sign and deliver personally to a councillor, the mayor or City Hall.

It reads in part: “The social, economic and community pillars of Belleville are in danger, due to the effects of the drug crisis and its epi-centre, the mismanagement of the day time Drop-in program run by the John Howard Society at Bridge St. United Church. I must speak out as my own livelihood and means to contribute to Belleville as a citizen, community member and taxpayer are in peril. Please act now.”

Three options, with tick boxes offered in the letter:

  • Permanently close the drop-in centre
  • Temporarily close it for six months to assess current operations
  • Keep the centre operating.
The Intelligencer

February 13 – Premier Doug Ford says province will try to help

Premier Doug Ford says the province will help with funding.

We’re going to try to support them

They need an influx of money right away. We’re going to get that done, and then we’re going to sit down and talk to them about building.

I always believe in the rehabilitation centres and supporting communities.

We need to catch [drug dealers], we need to throw them in jail and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

Premier Doug Ford

Ford says he is also going to sit down with the mayor of Belleville to talk about longer-term solutions such as building a community health hub.

February 12, 2024 – Mayor Ellis uses Strong Mayor powers for the first time to rezone the former Banquet Hall property at 1 Alhambra Square for “The Bridge” social and health services hub, council agrees unanimously

The rezoning would allow for medical offices.

The usual rezoning process would make approvals from Canadian National Railway (CNR) necessary since the railway is next to The Bridge Integrated Care Centre and existing zoning guidelines could take anywhere from 6 months to 1 year.

Even to hold it up a month now is too long.  They have gone through architect plans that they have now and they’re working through that process and it’s time to get this in gear.

Mayor Neil Ellis

I originally said that I would not use them, I guess maybe I should have backtracked and said I would only use them for the good of the community

Mayor Neil Ellis

Council agreed unanimously

if there was ever a time to use Strong Mayor powers, our homeless situation cannot wait another year.

We are in crisis right now, this is an imperative piece of leading the city. We’re very much appreciative of you stepping forward and being able to do this. Having the support of us I’m sure is also indicative of moving forward.

Councillor Lisa Anne Chatten

We didn’t like [Strong Mayors powers], it was a bitter pill to swallow but the levers of which allowed us access funding.

in this case, I agree with my colleague Councillor Chatten. Knowing the slow manner in which these approvals can come from CN and any of the major utilities like that they’ll rag the puck on this one until we have people literally dropping in the streets

We cannot take our foot off the gas on this issue. We have to move forward on the hub issue.

Councillor Chris Malette

February 12 – Belleville asks the Ontario government a 3rd time for $2M investment in a community hub (“The Bridge”), as well as a local detox centre

Mayor Neil Ellis, on behalf of Council and the City of Belleville submitted a Request for Assistance to the provincial government asking for:

  • Investment, guidance and support for a new 24/7, low-barrier community and social services health hub called “The Bridge,” a purpose-built centre and community hub for addiction, mental health and homelessness operated by a consortium of community groups on a large property donated by the city, which needs $2 million
  • Investment in a local detox centre

These 2 asks were made:

  • First, in May 2023 when council was approving funding for the hub project.
  • Second, on November 14, 2023 a week after Belleville saw 90 drug overdoses in one week.

When asked about Belleville’s request, the Ontario Ministry of Health said has received a submission from the Canadian Mental Health Association Hastings Prince Edward office.

With these resources and supports in place, I am confident that we, as a City, would be able to start making real positive change in our community

While we understand that this alone will not solve all of the complex issues that come with drug addiction, mental health and homelessness, we feel that we would at least be better equipped to support our community. It is my hope that with this request, the Province recognizes the challenges we are facing and that we can start to have collaborative, meaningful conversation about solutions for these issues moving forward.

Mayor Neil Ellis

Mayor Ellis has talked with Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith about the need for a detox centre “many times.”

February 12 – No GHB found in the drugs

While the original release reported the contaminant was suspected to be GHB, testing by Health Canada’s Drug Analysis Service and Cannabis Laboratories indicates that no GHB was detected among the samples that were tested. Public Health continues to work with the best evidence available, with an aim to inform both community partners and people who use drugs about potential risks and side effects.

Hastings Prince Edward Public Health

February 9 – Justin Trudeau spoke with Mayor Neil Ellis

Minister Ya’ara Saks, our mental health and addictions minister, spoke to Neil yesterday, I believe, and we’re going to be working with the tools we have at the federal level.

This phenomenon of toxic drug supply is not just hitting our biggest cities, they’re hitting small towns and communities across Ontario, right the country, and it requires us to step up and respond because these are tragedies that are hitting far too many families and communities that don’t have the resources available that are even there in large cities to some degree.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

February 9 – Chair of Belleville DBIA worries people might start avoiding downtown

Maury Flunder, the chair of Belleville’s business improvement association, said the growing list of social issues in Belleville’s downtown area is the number one concern according to a recent survey of merchants in the area.

The BIA runs an outreach program called Welcoming Streets aimed at helping Belleville’s vulnerable population access support.

Flunder said despite the efforts of the BIA and the municipality, the crisis is getting worse.

So far, many downtown businesses are doing well, according to Flunder, but he worries people may start avoiding the area.

“The perception from a large part of the community is certainly they don’t want to come down at night, for example, and you know, who wants that?” Flunder said.

February 9 – Downtown Belleville Improvement Area: disheartening to see “negative narratives” about downtown in the media

February 8, 2024 – Belleville declares an addiction, mental health and homelessness State of Emergency

Mayor Neil Ellis declared an addiction, mental health and homelessness emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, acting as a request for support from the provincial and federal government.

The Act defines an emergency as a situation or an impending situation that constitutes a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons or substantial damage to property and that is caused by the forces of nature, a disease or other health risk, an accident or an act whether intentional or otherwise.

The past two days have exemplified just how critical the addiction, mental health and homelessness crisis has become in our community

We, as a City, know that we are at the point where doing our best doesn’t cut it anymore. Our emergency services, health care system and municipal resources are being stretched to the very limits and we are close to a breaking point. We need serious action and support from senior level government to deal with this crisis and until we begin to see meaningful discussions on how to address the matter, I fear nothing will change. That is why we are calling on the Province and federal government for support. I urge our local municipal partners facing the same issues to do the same.

Mayor Neil Ellis in City Hall release

We need help, we need to sit down and discuss, as all municipalities are starting to do this.  Hamilton and Ottawa have done it.  We cannot as a municipality have a solution for it without the other two levels of government.

These social issues are killing a lot of cities, affecting every city across Ontario and Canada.

Mayor Neil Ellis on Lorne Brooker Show

When you have as many [overdoses] as we did in the last 24 hours, there doesn’t seem to be an end to it

we don’t have any capital or any facilities that that we can turn to

It’s time for us to take action or come up with a plan, but it’s all three levels of government that are going to have to do this.

Mayor Neil Ellis to CBC

Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones

Less than an hour before the State of Emergency was declared, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Health Minister Sylvia Jones (Sylvia.Jones@pc.ola.org) sent CBC a statement that pointed to the province’s $3.8B Roadmap to Wellness mental health and addictions plan, which included Belleville-specific investments include nearly $35 million for mental health and addiction organizations and nearly $2 million to pair health-care workers with police on distress calls.

Police Chief Mike Callaghan

These social issues are killing a lot of cities, affecting every city across Ontario and Canada.

We could potentially have them charged in the morning and in the afternoon have them out on bail selling again.  That’s a huge challenge for us.

People are actually sticking them to the bottom of ships coming into the country.  How they’re putting them in water intakes in ships coming into the country. Once the ship arrives another diver goes in and takes the drugs. It’s unbelievable the network that’s being utilized.

Belleville Police Chief Mike Callaghan to Quinte News

Deputy Police Chief Chris Barry

They abolished the ports police 26 years ago. Where you’ve got people that have tags on their cars and  they know where they are.  They’re in a container at the port of Montreal ready to go out and yet nothing’s done.  There needs to be some heavy duty investment in some kind of ports police or reinstatement of ports police in my view.

Deputy Police Chief Chris Barry to Quinte News

MP Ryan Williams

The City of Belleville has declared a state of emergency with its overdose crisis. I’ve been in touch with Chief Callaghan, Mayor Ellis, and MPP Todd Smith.

For the police – we need laws in Canada that end catch and release that allow drug dealers out on the streets instead of behind bars. I continue to work in Parliament in Ottawa so put pressure on the Liberal government to toughen theses laws.

Chief Callaghan: “We could potentially have them charged in the morning and in the afternoon have them out on bail selling again. That’s a huge challenge for us.”

End catch and release and ensure we put drug dealers in jail.

With the City they need more resources so we can ensure the police can do their jobs and we have more supports for mental health and addictions.

The province is working on treatment and additional resources to mental health and addictions. I have met with CMHA and we need to get beds in Quinte where none exist.

We need to ensure we get treatment to bring our loved ones home.

MP Ryan Williams on Facebook

February 8, 2024 – MPP Todd Smith: province is ready to support, but needs a clear ask from the city

“There’s no clear ask from the city. I don’t know exactly what it is that they want or what they think is going to make a difference. We’re there to support the city”

It’s frustrating that one or two people can come into our city, particularly into the downtown core, and sell or give tainted fentanyl drugs to people in the downtown core and that our reputation as a city can be tarnished because of the actions of a few people

I know how frustrating it is for city police because they do arrest these people and within hours, they’re back out on the street doing the exact same thing.  So it’s a vicious circle.  It’s frustrating for the city.  It’s a terrible blight on the city and it’s completely unnecessary in my mind if we had a tighter justice system that would put these people behind bars.

(The province has given) $35 million alone in funding for all of the agencies that are providing addictions and mental health services. We’re funding the project impact team which has mental health and addictions counsellors, working with city police and providing support to take the ease off our first responders. We’ve increased the homelessness prevention funding by 81% in Hastings County and 125% in Prince Edward and Lennox and Addington County. We’ve invested over $3 million in treatment beds.  Thirty-six of the 38 beds are full and funded by the provincial government. So there’s a lot that we’re doing,

I would say tens of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested over the last number of years in addictions and mental health supports, but yet we still run into these problems and again.

There’s no clear ask from the city.  I mean, I don’t know exactly what it is that they want or what they think is going to make a difference.  I mean, we’re there to support the city

The Minister of Mental Health and Addictions is coming to Belleville on Thursday next week, to sit down with emergency first responders and those who are working in the mental health and addiction space to try and understand what a clear ask would be, if it’s the detox centre that the Belleville police have been lobbying for, is that something that the province can support that will have an impact on the situation?

This is a serious problem in communities right across Ontario, Canada and North America and I don’t know if there’s any silver bullet that’s going to fix the problem

There isn’t a silver bullet. It’s going to take all of us working together at the federal, provincial and municipal level with the folks on the ground, grassroots, that are dealing with individuals to find solutions here.

MPP Todd Smith to Quinte News

February 8 – Capers: “how the media portrayed us is false”

February 7, 2024 – Press conference held at City Hall

Mayor Neil Ellis

This is a very unfortunate event.

It’s not the first occurrence and it won’t be the last. Like many municipalities across the province and country, we have a very serious drug, addictions and mental health crisis in our city. Our Police and Emergency Services are working around the clock and an immense amount of municipal resources are going toward this issue on a daily basis. We need support from the provincial government on how we move forward with this crisis. It is a crisis that is not specific to Belleville, it is a provincial and federal issue. We need to be part of a larger plan, focusing on harm reduction and rehabilitation. As a Municipality, we are ready to help and do whatever we can to be part of the solution, but we need some guidance.

Mayor Neil Ellis during press conference at City Hall

When you look at the situation, communities can’t fix it by themselves. We need funds, human resources, capital resources to get in front of this. I don’t see anything in the horizon

The gold standard is housing first, wraparound services, whether it be mental health services, drug addiction services and how do we get there? I don’t see a plan

Mayor Neil Ellis during press conference at City Hall

Ellis also accused other levels of government of neglecting the issue.

Homeless people don’t vote

Look at federal and provincial governments, giving factories corporate welfare. Whether it’s a billion dollars for a battery plant or ones that we’ve had look at us to be offered $300 million for 100 jobs, but all we can come up with is $6 million for homelessness in Hastings County. It’s a joke.

Mayor Neil Ellis during press conference at City Hall

Police Chief Mike Callaghan

Last night’s events resulted in enormous pressure on our emergency services as a whole

While we are fortunate that there were no casualties during this incident, we know this is an issue that will only continue to grow in our community and nation-wide. While we continue to lobby for a more wholesome approach to the mental health and addition crisis we are facing across the province and country, we have called in our partners from emergency services, public health and Quinte Health to work together to develop operational scenarios for addressing similar events to ensure our respective departments are equipped to handle these situations in the most efficient and effective way possible moving forward.

Police Chief Mike Callaghan during press conference at City Hall

I really believe the overarching issue here is not necessarily the absolute interdiction of those drugs, as it is working to address the mental health and addictions and support services in our community

These individuals could be treated in the morning and using again in the afternoon. We need the the mental health and addiction facilities because you don’t know if the addictions came first and then the mental health or there was a mental health and the individual self-medicated to address the mental health challenges.

Police Chief Mike Callaghan during press conference at City Hall

There are two officers right now assigned to the downtown core and our community response model, as well as we have members walking the beat… There is some private security involved as well

Police Chief Mike Callaghan during press conference at City Hall

MP Ryan Williams

This is heartbreaking and infuriating. We have a serious drug problem in Justin Trudeau’s Canada. Police do not have the tools to put criminals away. We now need drug treatment facilities to bring our loved ones home. Our resources are depleted.

MP Ryan Williams on Facebook

February 6, 2024 – Ellis says problem is too big for Belleville to tackle on its own

[The city faces a] very serious drug problem, addictions and mental health crisis.

We need funds … human resources, capital resources to get in front of this

I don’t see anything on the horizon.

Mayor Neil Ellis in a press conference

February 6, 2024 – 13 overdose incidents within a 60-minute period

Starting February 6, 2024, at 3:30pm, there were 13 overdose incidents within a 60-minute period and 17 in a 24 period in Belleville, Ontario – 9 of whom required transport to Belleville General Hospital hospital by ambulance. On February 9th a suspected overdose around 3 am found a patient in cardiac arrest and transported him to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

November 14, 2023 – Belleville asks Ontario government for funding for a second time

The request was made a week after Belleville saw 90 drug overdoses in one week.

November 7, 2023 – Chief Callaghan says Belleville has a community crisis

We haven’t seen it on this level or this scale before

We have a community crisis and we have to act now before we lose more lives.

Chief Callaghan

November 7, 2023 – Hastings Prince Edward Public Health reinforces the severity of the current drug poisoning situation

Along with our community partners, we continue to be incredibly concerned about contaminated drugs in the region and the current risk of drug poisonings. As reported last week, our region is experiencing an alarming and notably higher rate of calls and reported drug poisoning events than usual.

Police partners have advised that the suspected contaminant in local drugs is GHB. GHB is also known as G, Fantasy, Liquid Ecstasy, or the date rape drug. A fact sheet is available with more information about the effects and potential impact of this drug – but most important to know is that the impact varies significantly depending on the tolerance of the individual using the drug and the amount of GHB in the drug. While Naloxone can’t effectively reverse the effects of GHB, if mixed with an opioid Naloxone will help reverse the effect of the opioid and continues to be incredibly important to have on hand.

All individuals who use drugs are urged to take steps to protect themselves. Avoid mixing drugs, try a small amount first, don’t use alone, and have multiple Naloxone kits on hand. Considering the severity of the current situation, anyone who uses drugs or is with someone who is using drugs should be prepared to call for emergency response. If you must use drugs alone, you can call the National Overdose Response Service’s confidential overdose prevention hotline 24-hours-a-day at 1-888-688-6677. 

Statement from Dr. Ethan Toumishey, Medical Officer of Health and CEO at Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH)

June 12, 2023 – Belleville signs Memorandum of Understanding with John Howard Society

The City has granted $1.2 million to purchase the building and pre-approved $1M in capital for upgrades to the facility, the funds for which will not be released until a full business plan is provided to the City.

May [TBD], 2023 – Belleville asks Ontario government for funding

Ask was made when council was approving funding for the hub project. The John Howard Society and ‘The Bridge’ Steering Committee are still working on purchasing the site.

May 23, 2023 – Former Banquet Centre at 1 Alhambra Square for sale through Royal LePage realtor Brad Warner for $1,199,900

May 23, 2023 – Belleville supports The Bridge concept

The concept of ‘The Bridge’ was developed by drop-in partners as a next step for the existing program to provide collaborative services to individuals in one location. The expanded hub would provide wrap-around services including health care, social services and other critical assistance for unhoused members of our community.

City of Belleville in a news release covered by The Intelligencer and Quinte News

May 1, 2023 – Hastings County receives 80% increase in Ontario’s Homeless Prevention Program (HPP) funding, an increase of $6,142,600

Funding goes to programs by local social services to help homeless people across the region, and to initiatives designed to prevent more people from becoming homeless.

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