A simple and inexpensive solution to dealing with individuals high on methamphetamine is to expand services at the Main Street Project, mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk says.

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A simple and inexpensive solution to dealing with individuals high on methamphetamine is to expand services at the Main Street Project, mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk says.

Motkaluk told reporters Friday the current approach of tying up police resources at the Health Sciences Centre (HSC) takes officers away from patrolling the street and wastes hospital resources.

"We have an incredibly expensive system that reduces our ability to provide first-response service to the rest of Winnipeg, while failing to provide the best long-term services to the victims of addictions," she said.

"When I am elected mayor, we will create a specialized meth unit at the Main Street Project, where police, fire and paramedics can bring people who are high on meth."

Motkaluk said police would not be required to stay with people dropped off at an upgraded Main Street Project (75 Martha St.), as they do now at HSC.

Upgrading the Main Street Project, she said, would require $100,000 for building renovations and an annual cost of $400,000 to provide additional nursing staff.

Motkaluk said she hoped the provincial government could be convinced to provide the funding as it would free up hospital services, but if it won’t, she committed city hall would act alone.

It’s an approach River Heights ward candidate Garth Steek has said is being used in Calgary and should be implemented in Winnipeg.

"Tackling the meth crisis is one of Winnipeg’s real priorities," Motkaluk said.

Officials from the Main Street Project attended Motkaluk’s news conference held at a park in the middle of River Heights, where they would not address her proposals but did say the facility could do more if resources were provided to it.

Adrienne Dudek, housing director at the Main Street Project, was unable to say — despite being asked several times — why the non-profit community health agency could better handle individuals high on meth without police assistance, which is not the case for medical staff at HSC.

Dudek said despite how Winnipeg police have repeatedly highlighted the threat to public safety from individuals high on meth, not all such users are violent.

The Main Street Project now deals with individuals on meth without help from police and it could handle more if there were changes to the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act and resources provided to it, she said.

"The facility would need to be more health-related, and also we’d need more health services on-site," she said.

Minutes after Motkaluk began her announcement, Mayor Brian Bowman’s office issued a statement saying he would be bringing a motion to the Sept. 12 executive policy committee (EPC) calling on all relevant government agencies to get together to find a solution to the meth problem.

Later, following a ceremony to observe International Overdose Awareness Day, Bowman said Motkaluk’s proposal was too simplistic.

"If the focus is simply to get people off the street, I think that misses the mark," the mayor told reporters. "We really do need to focus in a collaborative, comprehensive way, ensuring long-term treatment options are available for people."

About 100 people gathered in the courtyard for an event Bowman said was to remember those individuals who have died from a drug overdose and to support their friends and families.

Bowman could not elaborate on his proposed motion, explaining it’s being developed in advance of the EPC meeting.

Another mayoral candidate, veteran Winnipeg police officer Tim Diack, said upgrading the Main Street Project building won’t be enough, adding the frequent violence associated with methamphetamine addiction requires a more forceful approach.

Diack, a street cop for 31 years who patrols parts of the North End and Point Douglas, said Winnipeg needs a methamphetamine-psychosis intake centre that resembles, "a correctional facility with a doctor and staff. It won’t be pleasant. It will be a jail."

Diack said if elected mayor, he would make it his first priority to establish a 50- to 100-bed facility, adding he doesn’t know the cost or where he’d find the funds.

"We need a place to secure people (who) will be violent to themselves and others. We’re going to need a facility that will hold people. They can’t be released," Diack said. "You can’t have (a facility) with one nurse with a pressboard desk and a piece of paper. You need to have people that are willing and capable of addressing a person that is extremely violent."

Don Woodstock, another mayoral candidate, had addressed the meth problem recently with a similar approach.

He said the city can’t continue the current practice of having police shackled to individuals high on meth at the HSC for indefinite periods of time. Woodstock said, if elected mayor, he would build a holding facility in one of the surrounding rural municipalities, where Winnipeg police could drop off people high on meth and then get back to patrolling the streets.