A vacant building that’s costing the province a half-million dollars a year could be ideally suited to be a headquarters in the fight against methamphetamine.

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A vacant building that’s costing the province a half-million dollars a year could be ideally suited to be a headquarters in the fight against methamphetamine.

Marion Willis (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Marion Willis (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Marion Willis, executive director of St. Boniface Street Links, wants to turn the former Southern Authority Child and Family Services centre at 800 Adele Ave. into a detox facility to help stabilize people getting off meth.

"It’s time to come together to do the right thing," Willis said Tuesday. "It would be a shame to know that the right thing... exists and is turnkey. But we choose to keep it empty."

There's two connected buildings on the site, including a newer addition, with 10 secure beds and triage units, which Willis wants to turn into a temporary stabilization unit to hold people under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act.

Willis said it’s "bizarre" the building is sitting empty, with stabilization units at the ready, while officials such as Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth slam the province's lack of action amid "unprecedented" police calls for drug- and alcohol-related crimes.

"We're beyond a crisis. This is an epidemic," Willis said. "This could be a game-changer."

The building at 800 Adele Avenue. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The building at 800 Adele Avenue. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Willis wants the building to be filled with stakeholders such as the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, Main Street Project, police and social workers as a centre to connect people with care, resources and housing as they recover from meth addiction.

New beds rarely empty

Six meth-and-mental-health beds added at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre last year, frequently cited when the province discusses action to fight the meth crisis, are in high demand.

Data from a freedom of information request shows for the first week of June, every bed was occupied — for periods of two weeks to more than a month for each patient.

Six meth-and-mental-health beds added at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre last year, frequently cited when the province discusses action to fight the meth crisis, are in high demand.

Data from a freedom of information request shows for the first week of June, every bed was occupied — for periods of two weeks to more than a month for each patient:

• Bed 1: Admission May 24, discharge June 4
• Bed 2: Adm. May 27, discharge June 6
• Bed 3: Adm. June 6, no discharge
• Bed 4: Adm. May 23, no discharge
• Bed 5: Adm. May 19, discharge June 10
• Bed 6: Adm. May 27, discharge June 13

The beds were added in 2018.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Shared Health said the beds are "dedicated to complex behaviours like those related to psychosis."

"It's still very, very, very challenging to find a place to support people that are experiencing psychoses from meth," said Marion Willis of St. Boniface Street Links.

Willis has said previously Morberg House patients taken to HSC suffering psychosis during meth withdrawal did not immediately get beds.

"The situation hasn't changed much," she said. "Was it because they filled up the beds right away?"

Willis noted psychosis is not caused directly from meth use but from sleep deprivation that can occur.

Last month, the province announced $985,000 to fund 16 more treatment beds for women with addictions, to be in use within the next three months.

That funding is not part of $4.1 million from the federal government for flexible-length meth treatment beds that was unallocated as of April.

There are bedrooms that could be also used for patients between stabilization and permanent housing, she said.

The building was leased in 2008 to keep children in CFS care out of hotels.

The $470,000-a-year lease is the subject of Bill 32 — designed to cancel the 20-year deal that has no opt-out clause — which stalled when the Manitoba legislature dissolved in the spring.

In May, the owners filed a $6-million lawsuit against the province for attempting to breach the contract.

But Ken Cranwill, co-owner of the building via a numbered company, is eager to discuss Willis' vision.

"We would love for this to happen," he said. "We made a commitment to the Grey Nuns... that we were going to put their building up to good purpose. That’s a commitment we made and we plan on honouring that."

Building owner Ken Cranwill. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Building owner Ken Cranwill. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Cranwill stopped short of saying he would be willing to renegotiate the lease, but said he’s open to different options, including selling the building to be used as a meth-fighting centre.

A 2016 review of the lease by accounting firm Grant Thornton found "irregularities," including "the 20-year term without any right for early termination," Southern Authority CEO Tara Petti told a committee hearing on Bill 32 in May.

The Southern Authority declined comment Tuesday.

The province confirmed it's paying the $38,000-a-month rent.

800 Adele by the numbers


Balance owing on the lease: $4.25 million

Amount for which owners are suing province: $6.1 million

Balance owing on the lease: $4.25 million

Amount for which owners are suing province: $6.1 million

City of Winnipeg assessment of property: $1.1 million

2008 mortgage on the property: $3.7 million

Amount invested by numbered company to customize facility: $1.5 million

Damage to building that needs to be fixed before reoccupancy: $240,000

Number of children who stayed there in CFS care: 250

Secure beds: 10

20-year lease expires: 2029

— sources: statement of claim, property registry, city assessment, Ken Cranwill

Cranwill and Peter Ginakes' company is suing the province over Bill 32, arguing the contract was broken and defendants (including Premier Brian Pallister and Families Minister Scott Fielding) "were motivated by improper motives of malice, spite and revenge against the individual plaintiff Ginakes for his role in obtaining from the former NDP government a contract to supply Tiger Dams" flood-fighting equipment in 2011.

Cranwill said he's willing to work with whatever government is elected Sept. 10.

"We have a facility sitting here empty, which is a shame," he said. "We’re willing to listen, and we’re open-minded. We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

(Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

(Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

St. Boniface Street Links runs Morberg House, which provides housing and support for people trying to get clean. Willis said more than 250 individuals have come through in the last three years.

"I certainly don’t have any problem filling up Morberg House — I could fill up three more Morberg Houses any day of the week," she said. "People would take help if help was available."

“People would take help if help was available.” –Marion Willis

She said 30 spaces might be better than 10 — but it’s a start.

"It would be a big win for this city," Willis said. "There’s so much at stake. It would be irresponsible of us not to do this."

Defendants of the lawsuit — the province, Pallister, Fielding and deputy minister of Crown Services Scott Sinclair — filed a notice of motion to provide their evidence at a hearing Aug. 15.

tvanderhart@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @tessavanderhart