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Memorial wall recognizes lives lost to mental health, addictions struggles (12 photos)

SOYA, City of Sault Ste. Marie offically unveil memorial during International Overdose Awareness Day

Sault Ste. Marie now has a physical memorial that recognizes and remembers community members who have lost their lives to drug poisoning.

The City of Sault Ste. Marie and Save Our Young Adults (SOYA) unveiled a memorial wall at Ronald A. Irwin Civic Centre Tuesday to coincide with International Overdose Awareness Day. The $4,000 project was unanimously approved by city council this past May.  

Stephanie Poitras, who originally brought the idea of a memorial to SOYA, says the memorial wall is intended to break the stigma and negativity around addiction.  

“I feel like Sault Ste. Marie is getting a dose of love, compassion and support that we need,” she told SooToday after the unveiling. 

It’s obvious from speaking to Poitras that she has been deeply impacted by the opioid crisis in Sault Ste. Marie. 

“I know too many people who are affected by it, who have passed from it. I know too many moms who grieve the lost children, children who grieve their parents,” she said. “It’s everywhere.”

While Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Christian Provenzano lauded SOYA for its commitment, perseverance and kindness, he also took the time to acknowledge the lack of resources for those struggling with mental health and addictions issues.   

“Our community’s mental health and addiction challenges are substantial, and our efforts to address these challenges are ongoing. While I acknowledge that we have not secured the level of care that we need to properly serve and support our community, I can tell you that the city will not relent in its efforts,” said Provenzano, speaking to the crowd gathered at the memorial wall Tuesday. “We need additional resources and the support of both the provincial and federal governments to meet many of the challenges we are facing, and I will continue to advocate for these resources.”

SOYA founder Connie Raynor Elliott told SooToday that the isolation due to lockdowns and other restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the opioid epidemic worse in the Sault. 

“People need compassion, people need people,” said Raynor Elliot. “It’s 100 times worse, if not more.”

Raynor Elliott says the memorial wall located on city hall property will hopefully provide a sense of peace and solitude to those grieving lives lost to the growing opioid crisis locally.  

People needed this,” said Raynor Elliott, motioning to the crowd of people gathered at the memorial wall. “Look at this. They really needed a place to go.”

“Get rid of the stigma and let’s talk about it, and open up the conversations. This is very, very important to our city. I’m so glad that everything went the way it did. This is phenomenal.”

The Algoma Public Health region had 53 opioid-related deaths in 2020, up from 17 in 2019.