While the first of three safe injection sites in Toronto isn’t scheduled to open until sometime this fall, harm reduction workers in the city aren’t waiting that long.
Members of Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance (THRA) opened the first unsanctioned pop-up safe injection site on Saturday.
At first, the group did not say exactly where the tent will go up except that it would be in an east-end park. They added that lawyers would be on call in the event police attempt to shut them down.
Later in the day the location was revealed as Moss Park.
While police told organizers they are breaking some bylaws, they are being allowed to stay and continue their activities in the park.
The police and the city were initially unsure about allowing a supervised injection site in a public space, but Toronto police Superintendent Heinz Kuck says it is the need of the hour.
“Although Toronto police doesn’t necessarily agree totally with an injection site like this popping up because we do have the aspect of illegal drugs coming and going, the crisis supersedes that at this point in time,” he said.
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The organizers of the pop-up safe injection site are volunteers, but at least two people trained in advanced first aid and naloxone administration will be on site at all times.
“We know what we’re doing and we just want to help save people’s lives. We just don’t want to go memorials, funerals anymore. We don’t want to see more dead people” said harm reduction advocate Zoe Dodd.
While the site is considered a pop-up in theory, the THRA says the plan was always to make it a somewhat permanent site – unless the current agreement with police changes. Volunteers will staff the tent everyday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
City officials announced earlier this week that construction on one of three safe injection sites with the Toronto Public Health building on Victoria Street had begun. The other two sites will be located at the Queen West-Central Toronto and the South Riverdale community health centres.
The sites allow people to use illicit drugs under the supervision of a medical professional.
The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty said that the city’s current efforts are still not enough and called on the mayor to declare a public health emergency over the current opioid crisis. They presented a list of demands which included immediately opening safe spaces and making drug testing kits available for drug users.
Last week, Mayor John Tory said the city was speeding up the opening of three supervised injection sites and asking local police to consider having some officers carry naloxone.