The city still seems to be having trouble talking rationally about drug treatment centres, so we hung around the Parkdale methadone clinic to see how NIMBYism is faring.
Compared to the usual targets of neighbourhood opposition, like towering condos and rumbling diesel trains, the building at 21 Strickland Ave. is far from imposing. The squat, triangular structure near Queen and Dufferin has only a few small windows facing the street, and its large, garage-style glass door is obscured by curtains, leaving no hints that inside, staff from Breakaway Addiction Services treat patients with opiate addictions.
When I visited last Thursday to meet Dennis Long, Breakaway’s executive director, there were no signs of the neighbourhood scorn that surrounded the clinic’s opening in 2011. Long, as well as manager Bob Martel, looked relaxed; the building had the cool, sterile feeling of all medical facilities, but without the urgency of some hospitals. At Breakaway, patients are prescribed methadone, a synthetic opioid that’s used in treating addiction to drugs like heroin, and partake in a complex program that can involve therapy and yoga. Things were quiet on Thursday morning, but Long said the clinic’s patients might surprise me: “Women with babies, people with dogs, guys in suits, people who were obviously street-involved, of course, and everything in between.”
Detractors see methadone treatment in simple terms: replacing one illegal drug with another. And when neighbours learned that a methadone clinic was opening in their neighbourhood two years ago, they were furious.
Long admitted they should have consulted neighbours before moving in—they had to abruptly leave their old location on Niagara Street—but he’s bored by anyone who would moralize about methadone use or safe injection sites. Health Canada credits the treatment with reducing the use of opioids, crime, and death. “We’re saving lives,” Long said. “If somebody can demonstrate to me that saving people’s lives is immoral, I want to see the logic there.” He said neighbours were concerned about people hanging around in front of the clinic, but now, opposition to the clinic has dwindled.
I knocked on a few Strickland Avenue doors before being invited into Stanley Lidon’s backyard. Lidon, who bought his house in 2008, opposed the clinic from the beginning. His list of grievances was straightforward: He’s against government funding going to a privately owned building, he doesn’t think the clinic belongs in a residential neighbourhood, and he said he’s seen some shady characters hanging around outside the building. When he complained to the clinic about a drunk man standing beside the building, he said a staffer told him the man wasn’t one of their clients. Lidon still thought it should be the clinic’s responsibility: “If there’s garbage in front of it, would you not pick it up?”
The next day, I met Kim Allan, who lives around the corner. Allan believes the clinic doesn’t belong near children, in a residential area that’s “cleaned up and gentrified,” but changed her tone when I asked if her initial opposition had softened. She extended a hand like she was trying to calm a frantic friend: “It definitely didn’t seem to have as bad an impact as…we were all thinking it would.”
Along Strickland, I heard more cautious acceptance. Vaughn Abbey initially learned that the clinic would open after he returned from vacation in 2011, and thought they should have been more active in talking to residents. And now? “They’ve been very good neighbours,” he said.
All of which seemed to suggest that the lingering critique is a lopsided battle: healthy patients vs. the occasional loiterer; aid for addicts vs. the entitlement of gentrification. Tom Blackwell, who recently moved in around the corner, gave Breakaway his strong support: “If the net effect of the methadone clinic’s existence is making the community healthier, then it’s gotta be somewhere,” he said. While the folks at Breakaway explained that the location isn’t suited for a safe injection site, like the one Toronto Public Health recently recommended the city open, Blackwell added that he’d support one of those, too.
After two days of hanging around Strickland and talking to residents, I was most struck by Lidon’s belief that Breakaway had done nothing to improve the neighbourhood. His complaint that the clinic was treating people from outside the community meant assuming that its patients are outsiders, in every sense of the word. In Parkdale, that’s far from the truth. And what’s a greater strain on a neighbourhood—people addicted to drugs, or the medical treatment that can help them get healthy?