Unhappy with province, Belleville looks to fund health hub on its own amid drug crisis

unhappy with province, belleville looks to fund health hub on its own amid drug crisis

Belleville Mayor Neil Ellis speaks during a media conference on Feb. 12, 2024, after the city declared an addiction emergency. At a press conference Tuesday, Ellis said the province is dragging its feet approving funding and wants the city to look at funding the rest of the health hub on its own.

The mayor of Belleville, Ont., says the province is dragging its heels on granting funds to help build a service hub for mental health and addictions support — and he wants the city to look at funding itself amid an overdose crisis.

Police in the eastern Ontario city said 13 people overdosed in a matter of hours on the afternoon of Feb. 6, and described the situation as an “overdose emergency.”

That number rose to 23 suspected drug poisonings two days later, prompting the city to declare an addictions emergency.

During a press conference last week, Mayor Neil Ellis said Belleville had already invested $2 million toward turning a former banquet hall into a space to provide addiction, mental health and homelessness support, which will be called The Bridge.

He asked for Ontario’s government to meet the city halfway and come up with the other $2 million needed to get the project up and running.

“We need action now,” Ellis said at the time.

Bay of Quinte Progressive Conservative MPP Todd Smith and Michael Tibollo, associate minister of mental health and addictions, met with officials in Belleville last week.

In a statement shared afterwards, Smith said Ontario is providing more than $216,000 in one-time funding to meet the immediate needs of the city and surrounding area.

He said the funding will increase staffing at local support services and also increase presence of outreach teams and first responders downtown.

In his statement, Smith said the province invested more than $35 million to support mental health services in Belleville this year.

On Tuesday, Ellis welcomed that $216,000 but said it was unrelated to the building money.

He said he’d heard “no support” for the $2 million for The Bridge.

Ellis asked for the funding again, and said he would also ask city staff to come up with options for the city to pay for it on its own.

That could mean a one per cent tax hike, a levy or using long-term debt, he said, all pending council approval.

“We don’t have time to wait,” he said, saying he wants The Bridge open by the end of the year.

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