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2023 YEAR IN REVIEW: Residents and council grapple with crime and safe drug use in Nelson

Discussions were about the interrelated issues of drug use, mental health, crime and homelessness
Interior Health wanted to start a supervised inhalation site at the Nelson Friendship Outreach Clubhouse, located at 818 Vernon St. The majority of toxic drug deaths in B.C. occur after smoking a substance. Photo: Tyler Harper

Many stories in the Nelson Star in 2023 were about overlapping issues of homelessness, addiction, mental health, and crime.

In May, a new inhalation site planned for the Interior Health-owned Nelson Friendship Outreach Clubhouse at 818 Vernon St. was delayed because of opposition from neighbouring businesses and residents who said the location was inappropriate and unsafe. Harm-reduction advocates said the facility would help to reduce the number of toxic drug deaths in Nelson.

According to the B.C. Coroners Service, at least 2,039 people died of overdoses in B.C. in the first 10 months of this year. In the Nelson local health area, which includes Salmo and parts of the Slocan Valley, a record 13 people died in the first eight months of this year.

The yard at the Clubhouse had become a site for congregations of homeless people. After several weeks of complaints from the neighbours about criminal activity and threatening behaviour on the sidewalks and in residents’ yards, Interior Health hired a security guard to clear the property.

The neighbours organized themselves as the Neighbourhood Network, and continued to speak out about criminal activity in their part of the city.

The secured Clubhouse yard resulted in the dispersal of its occupants across the city, one destination being a new encampment across Cedar Street from the Scout Hall. In September the City of Nelson cleared this camp, citing criminal activity in the neighbourhood that they said originated in the camp.

In September, Nelson City Council passed a bylaw outlawing the consumption of drugs in parks, with a list of the prohibited locations. New levels of public consumption had followed the provincial government’s decriminalization in January of the possession and use of small amounts of certain illegal drugs.

At a council meeting in September, officials from IH said they disagreed with Nelson’s bylaw because it interfered with a provincial harm reduction strategy and the goals of decriminalization, but at the same time they said they had no plan for the delivery of harm reduction services or recovery services in rural areas of the Kootenays.

As for the the proposed inhalation site, a location has still not been found, despite repeated assurances from the city and IH that they are searching for one.

On Oct. 25, representatives of the Neighbourhood Network appeared before Nelson City Council offering help in finding a suitable site. They also asked that safe use sites be controlled by regulations similar to the consumption of alcohol, and that no further safe use sites be approved in Nelson before similar sites exist in other West Kootenay communities.

A public decision on those requests has not yet been made.


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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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