Montreal Residents Protest Proposed Drug-Inhalation Site Near Elementary School

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In the St-Henri district of Montreal, dozens of concerned parents and residents congregated in a heated meeting on Tuesday, expressing apprehensions about the establishment of a proposed supervised drug-inhalation site in proximity to a neighborhood elementary school.

A four-story building, undergoing construction on Atwater Avenue, is expected to house 36 self-contained apartments designed for individuals grappling with homelessness, mental health concerns, or addiction issues. Poised to stand less than 100 meters from Victor-Rousselot Elementary School which educates around 300 students from preschool to Grade 6, the development plan is eliciting anxiety within the community.

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Lindsay David, a local resident, underscored the communitywide endorsement for such initiatives but voiced concerns about the center’s proximity to the school. “In this densely-populated area, the exposure for small children is just too much. It doesn’t feel fair,” she remarked.

Several locals expressed their surprise at the revealed intentions of the project, led by Maison Benoit Labre, a local non-profit that runs a day center for the unhoused. They claim to have been completely unaware of the provision that allows center users to bring in their personal drugs for consumption, until this contentious detail was exposed by media outlets in summer.

Further echoing community fears, St-Henri resident Phil Malwyn drew parallels between the center’s evolving operations and a deceptive tale of gas-lighting. Malwyn protested that residents were led to believe it would be a residence, not a hub for supervised drug activity.

In a gathering at the school on Tuesday, concerned parents bore protest posters and addressed officials from the non-profit and the school about their grievances. “Not in my schoolyard,” read one such vehement poster that also highlighted concern about dangerous substances like crack and fentanyl being near their children.

According to Maison Benoit Labre, the new center’s ground floor will operate an Overdose Prevention Center, where clients can safely consume their substances under the supervision of trained professionals. This initiative would set Montreal’s first example of a site that accommodates supervised drug inhalation along with other consumption methods.

The noted services of a supervised inhalation center can play a crucial role in harm reduction, conceded Lionel Carmant, Quebec’s minister for social services. However, he affirmed that gaining social acceptance in the neighborhoods is indispensible. Committing to monitoring developments, he queried, “We can’t impose a [supervised inhalation site] in a neighborhood so close to a school, can we?”

Some residents, like Anick Desrosiers, voiced their understanding of the parents’ concerns but highlighted the necessity of such a center in the community. Desrosiers, a mother, social worker, psychotherapist, and a Ph.D. candidate at McGill University, whose research is centered on the traumatic experiences preceding homelessness, urged for a dialogue based on empathy rather than prejudice.

A closed door meeting with the organisers, however, seemed to leave the dissenters discontent. Leveesa Lessey, whose seven-year-old son is a student at Victor-Rousselot, expressed her frustration at the perceived lack of answers, “This will eventually get out of hand. You could have found a more secure location,” she concluded.