Members of the Simcoe and District Horticultural Society will need the all-clear from Norfolk County before they return to volunteer maintenance at Governor Simcoe Square.
Co-president Helen Uren attended town hall recently to weed flower beds on the east and south side of the square, which she described this week as “a real mess.”
While picking through the beds, Uren said she was approached by someone who identified themselves as an addictions counsellor and asked her what she was doing. When Uren identified herself, the individual told her that gardening in this location was a potentially fatal activity.
“She said, `You’re doing a dangerous job,” Uren said. “`This is where the drug users get their high.’ She said don’t touch anything that is tin foil.
“I’ve got plants to plant there, but I don’t know now if I should do it. She told me that if I touch the fentanyl I could die, so I left. You’d think they’d put up a sign.”
Uren appreciated the intervention. When tending to gardens on public property, collecting trash is part of her routine.
“I would’ve kept weeding,” Uren said. “But I’m not going back. Isn’t it something that it is that bad? But it’s bad everywhere. And COVID is making it worse because these people are isolated.”
Uren is referring to opioid addicts who have gravitated to Simcoe in recent years due to comparatively low rent and ready access to methadone therapy at several clinics in the core.
Since the latest provincial lockdown began, Governor Simcoe Square has seen much less traffic as county employees work from remote locations. Governor Simcoe Square has become a place to loiter.
This activity was evident on the east lawn of the square Wednesday morning. The court yard was strewn with garbage, discarded clothing and bits of foil that may or may not be related to drug use.
“There is some concern with regards to discarded drug-related items that could cause harm to unsuspecting residents,” county CAO Jason Burgess said May 26. “This is an unfortunate situation related to a number of issues caused by a variety of social problems and challenges.
“Our staff do undertake (a) regular maintenance schedule. Staff have noticed a definite increase in discarded needles and other items.”
Burgess added the fallout from the opioid crisis has progressively worsened during the pandemic. Toronto Mayor John Tory made the same point on the same day when he noted that opioid deaths in the city have spiked to nearly two a day since the pandemic began.
Burgess said the county is trying to contain the situation with the help of law enforcement, municipal staff and social-service agencies.
“The opioid issue was massive prior to COVID-19 and the problem has got worse,” Burgess said. “The only difference is the media spotlight is not on it. The issue is how best to solve it.”
He said many municipalities are struggling with the opioid challenge.
“I wish I had some better answers,” he said. “Though there are no clear solutions the team will continue best efforts.”