Toronto harm reduction workers are taking matters into their own hands by opening the city’s first unregulated pop-up safe-injection site following a spate of deaths in and around the city — three in the last 24 hours.
The Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance is set to open the site Saturday at a “traditionally underserved” location in downtown Toronto, front-line harm reduction worker Matt Johnson told CBC News.
Johnson declined to give the site’s exact location, citing the protection of users and organizers who could potentially be arrested, given that the space is not authorized by the city.
That’s a risk Johnson said they simply have to take.
“We just can’t wait any longer.… With this many deaths we just can’t afford to,” he said.
City-sanctioned sites not sufficient, say advocates
The move comes as many harm reduction advocates call for the city to declare a public health emergency along with immediate funding for 24-hour care for drug users until Toronto’s official safe-injection sites open later this year. The first of those sites, which would allow for illicit drugs to be used under the supervision of a medical professional, is set to open its doors this fall.
‘You have to put up the tent and then the city will have to come around. It would be bonkers for the city to shut [it] down.’
– Sarah Blyth, Vancouver-based community advocate
Although many have lauded the sites approved by Health Canada as a life-saving move, many harm reduction advocates have said they simply aren’t enough to address what they see as a growing crisis.
“They were opened to deal with the overdose problem that we had — not the increase that we’re dealing with. So they can’t handle the overflow that we’re seeing now,” Johnson said, citing a rash of drug overdose deaths in the past month that prompted police to issue a public alert.
‘We have to stop sort of viewing them as the answer,” Leigh Chapman, whose brother died of an overdose on a downtown street in 2015, told CBC News on Friday.
Vancouver’s response to pop-ups a model
Police did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. But Toronto isn’t the first to see a pop-up injection site in Canada.
Sarah Blyth, a community advocate with the Overdose Prevention Society, opened up a tent in September in the alley behind the market that she manages in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside — out of what she says was desperation.
The group offered clean needles, food and basic…