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‘We just can’t wait’: After rash of drug overdoses, Belleville, Ont. vows to open new community hub with or without province’s help

The mayor of Belleville says that if the province won’t help, it’ll have to find a way to tackle its growing drug and homelessness problem itself.

Earlier this month, emergency personnel in the eastern Ontario city were overwhelmed after being called to 23 drug overdoses in less than 48 hours.

On Feb. 8, the municipality of 55,000 residents declared a state of emergency, calling on the province to step up immediately and support programs and services for people in the community who are experiencing homelessness, mental health issues and addiction.

During a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, Belleville Mayor Neil Ellis said they’re still waiting for an answer from the provincial government.

Specifically, Belleville wants the province to invest $2 million for wraparound services at its new 24/7, low-barrier community and social services health hub. Called “The Bridge,” this centre will be operated by a consortium of community groups on a large property donated by the city. So far, the City of Belleville has invested roughly $2 million in the initiative.

The city is also seeking Ontario’s help to open a local detox centre.

“There was no support as of now for our two asks and it was noted that the capital for the hub would be a tough ask,” said Ellis, who met last week with Quinte MPP Todd Smith and Ontario’s Associate Minister for Mental Health and Addictions, Michael Tibollo, to discuss the situation.

Ellis said that he was told that his city must instead come up with a mental health and addiction strategy. has reached out to Ellis, Tibello and the Ontario Ministry of Health for a response, but we have yet to hear back.

Unwilling to wait any longer for a funding commitment from the province, Ellis said that at the end of February, they’d be putting forward a request that $2 million be set aside in Belleville’s next operating budget for the new centre, which he said he’d like to see open by the end of the year.

“Although it’s a provincial issue, it’s our issue also so it’s time that if we don’t get the answer, it’s time to move forward,” he said, pointing to a similar strategy the city has taken by investing more than $4 million to recruit physicians over the last 14 years.

“If you want to take care of yourself, I guess you need to do it yourself.”

A spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones told The Canadian Press that a submission from the Canadian Mental Health Association of Hastings Prince Edward and other local agencies for unrelated items separate from the hub funding is currently under review.

They also said the provincial government would be providing more than $216,000 in one-time funding to Belleville for more first responders in the city’s downtown core as well as up staffing levels at local support and outreach services.

“I do welcome that money it will be used well in our community, but we need a lot more money,” Ellis said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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