July 20, 2024

How the Belleville overdose crisis became a reflection of what’s happening across Ontario

Cities and towns are conflicted with a desire to attract tourists to a vibrant, welcoming city and a growing homelessness and drug crisis

BELLEVILLE, ONT.—On a bright Monday afternoon in Belleville, a small group marches to city hall as pellets of hail fall from the sky. Melissa Lynch and her partner, Leo Quinlan — clad in matching yellow toques — haven’t assembled the crowd they hoped for, but they’re still determined to bring their message to local officials — that they’re “homeless but not helpless.”

Trailed by two burly but friendly police officers, the pack of about a half dozen individuals pours into the municipal building and is met by a security guard, an aide to the mayor and members of city council. The two officers flank the doors that lead to the corridors of power. Lynch, a guitar strapped to her back, disputes the characterization of an “overdose crisis” that has shone a spotlight on this city of 55,000 known for its historic downtown and proximity to cottage country, after a reported 17 overdoses in 24 hours. That led the mayor to declare a state of emergency and to put out a plea for help.

“They’re not overdosing” on fentanyl, Lynch asserted of her friends on the street, who she said refer to her as “Ma. “These people are falling asleep instantly … this is a totally different drug.”

She says she’s frustrated with what she feels is an overly paternalistic response to drug use; while people do need help, she’d rather see it come in the form of mental health support and affordable housing.

“If we lay down for a nap on the side of the sidewalk, people are thinking we’re having a fentanyl overdose,” she said. “I applaud you for being concerned. But you really are tying up lines, tying up the time that could be given to someone else who actually needs it.”

Interesting Read…