LONDON, ONT -- The fight against London’s other health crisis - the one overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic - took a big step forward Monday, as final approval was granted for a permanent safe consumption site.

The facility will go into a former retail store at 446 York St. and will help to tackle London’s ongoing opioid crisis.

“Before Carepoint I had nowhere to go. I felt alone and ashamed,” said Brian Lester of the Regional HIV/Aids Connection. He was reading personal comments from a client of the Carepoint Consumption and Treatment program at 186 King St., the site of the termporary consumption site.

The temporary overdose prevention site was opened at that location in February of 2018, and since then the demand for services has only grown stronger.

That’s why the Middlesex-London Health Unit's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie said in a livestreamed news conference Monday that provincial approval for the permanent site on York comes not a moment too soon.

“The lockdown put people alone in their homes and that’s often the most dangerous place to use opioids, and where most of the deaths occur. The pandemic also isolated people from many of the supports that they used.”

The new facility will allow clients to consume their own drugs under medical supervision, and will include treatment and counseling programs. The $1.2-million cost to renovate, and the $1.7-million cost per year to operate the programs will be funded by the province, according to local officials.

But the facility is not going ahead without having crossed some speed bumps. Some area businesses fought the move to York Street, resulting in a battle over zoning.

“I’ve seen what it looks like at 186 King St. where they collect and hang out, said Denise Krogman of Dennnis Krogman Auto Sales, next door to the York Street site. “So that’s what this will look like. And I have no doubt that we will probably have to cease operation.”

London Mayor Ed Holder defended the move.

“That decision will upheld last November by Ontario’s Local Planning Appeals Tribunal, saying not only would this site at that location provide better public health, it will also improve public safety in the area.”

Construction is expected to begin in spring with move-in set for late 2021.