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Orillia's opioid crisis, affordable housing take centre stage at council meeting

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In Orillia, the ongoing challenges posed by the opioid crisis and the lack of affordable housing took centre stage at a special council meeting, eliciting a sense of desperation among residents eagerly awaiting a resolution.

Many took the stage with impassioned speeches at the meeting at the Orillia Opera House Monday.

"The city needs help. The whole world needs help. Please listen to us," pleaded resident Michelle Walker.

"This has been the number one social problem expressed by Orillians for years," resident Joyce Ward said.

"I've seen so many women, and it just breaks my heart when I was in the shelters," added resident Nancy Norris.

Councilors Ralph Cipolla and Janet Lynne-Durnford proposed the city explore introducing detox support and bolstering harm reduction services for the most vulnerable individuals on the streets.

Cipolla expressed grave concerns about the worsening situation, exacerbated further by the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the need for immediate action to prevent loss of life.

"Through the assistance of the County of Simcoe and the health unit, create accommodations for these people so we can get them off the street because winter is coming, as you can see, and they have no place to go," the councillor stated.

Community organizations report a 35 per cent surge in demand compared to the previous year.

"We are full almost every night with 58 participants as well as 18 are supportive housing, so that's like 76 a night, plus there's multiple encampments in Orillia," said Linda Goodall, The Lighthouse executive director.

"Emergencies are happening right now. People are dying in the streets. People are getting kicked out of their homes," said Chris Peacock, The Sharing Place executive director. "Unfortunately, this is what it takes to create solutions or provide solutions, so let's bring solutions to the table and solve this problem."

"We're in a difficult time right now, a lot of addictions, mental health issues, homelessness issues, and it's good to know city council is stepping up to the plate and the community partners that are involved and trying to make a change in the lives of people that unfortunately are not being taken care of to the degree they should be," Peacock added.

City council pledged to continue exploring options for affordable housing in collaboration with the County while grappling with the challenge of managing encampments effectively.

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