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Tensions high as Barrie mayor faces protest while addressing downtown safety initiatives

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Tensions were high Thursday morning between a small group of protesters and Barrie's mayor as the City and its partners touted ways they're working to address safety downtown.

 Mayor Alex Nutall held a press conference downtown to provide an update on the initiatives being undertaken to address the City's two strategic priorities: community safety and creating a thriving community.

Nuttall fielded questions from some protesters about a perceived lack of compassion for dealing with Barrie's most vulnerable population.

"The most important message is that we are eliminating the silos that exist between various services here in the City of Barrie," Nuttall told the crowd. "We are ensuring all our services work together, whether that's the police, the County of Simcoe, in terms of our social services, the BIA, in terms of taking care of downtown, we are putting the well-being of individuals at the forefront in this city."

During the press conference, the mayor announced his intention to focus efforts, in part, on ridding downtown of illegal drug dispensaries.

Nuttall said upper-level governments must do more to eliminate dispensaries but added that the City of Barrie also needs to step up.

"I don't think it's something that can continue - to let happen without resistance," he added. "We need to ensure the City is doing everything it can to ensure our downtown is not full of places like that, propagating illegal drug dealing."

Most of the initiatives discussed on Thursday had previously been announced or were already in the works, such as increasing the presence of Barrie police in the downtown core or cleaning up alleyways to help beautify the City.

For Sarah Tilley, harm reduction manager at the Gilbert Centre, a social support service, Thursday's announcement left her disappointed and wanting more.

"We were not aware of this press conference, so it seems a little disingenuous to speak on behalf of social service agencies but not invite them," Tilley told CTV News.

Tilley said she worries Barrie's approach lacks methods or plans to save lives from those dealing with addiction and homelessness.

She wanted to hear from Nuttall on the status of the City's Consumption and Treatment Services Site, which has been in limbo while waiting for funding from the provincial government.

"In communities like Sudbury, where similarly, the provincial government were not able to approve the application in a timely manner, the City Council actually stepped in and funded their supervised consumption site," she said. "There is an ability, and there is other forms of financial supports for things like supervised consumption sites that we know save lives if people are willing. Right now, Barrie City Council, the mayor and other folks at the table don't seem committed to actually saving lives."

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