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Businesses near future safe injection site concerned about security

Last Updated Sep 13, 2017 at 7:59 pm EDT

From crack and heroin dealers, to sexual favours being performed out in the open, the scene near a future safe injection site has been rough in recent months, according to local businesses.

They’re worried neighbourhood safety will get even worse once a planned safe injection site opens at the Queen West Community Health Centre (CHC) at Bathurst and Richmond streets. Since the site was announced last year, Patrick Penman, co-owner of The Football Factory across the street, said he’s noticed a change in the people frequenting the area, adding one of them threatened his customers.

“He threatened to cut the heads off of the people sitting on the patio and then when I told him that was not a good idea, then he threatened to cut my head off,” Penman said. “He punched me in the face, split my lip open, cut my face.

“He was tasered 12 times by cops and kept getting back up and he injured two officers in the process.”

Penman’s bar and restaurant has been in business at that location for a decade. During that time, they’ve had a bumpy but amicable relationship with their the Queen West CHC. But since it was announced the centre will be one of Toronto’s three safe infection sites, things have changed, according to Penman.

“There’s been a turnover with the local drug dealers,” he said. “The local drug dealer, or that group, had been here for a decade.

“He was murdered on the corner, and there’s a new, much more savvy, group that has come down. It’s almost like, you go where the business is. They came into the neighbourhood to take over the neighbourhood, waiting for the influx of people coming to use the safe injection sites.”

Across the street, several homes slated for redevelopment have been boarded up. But area businesses claim the new dealers on the block have begun using the vacant properties as bawdy houses, cooking drugs and bringing in sex-trade workers.

Photos provided to CityNews allegedly show people openly smoking crack, and an influx of dealers and users around the Queen West CHC when the sun goes down.

Penman and others are calling for 24-hour security outside the centre as well as security cameras. Area councillor Joe Cressy said police are working on security measures though he doesn’t believe crime is on the rise.

“The research has shown that when safe injection sites go in, local crime and public drug use goes down because it moves inside,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t have safety and security protocols in place. We’re working really closely with the Toronto Police Service and the local division to have them in place 24 hours.”

Cressy denied claims made by citizens that the city “cherry picked the research” and “screwed the numbers” to back its claims that injection sites make communities safer.

“We have, in downtown Toronto, incidents associated with crime unfortunately,” he said. “We also have an escalating overdose crisis. I think it would be unfair to say, ‘I had a criminal experience; therefore it must be the fault of a supervised injection site to come in the future.’”

Toronto police confirm they’re working on a safety plan for the areas around the safe injection sites.

Penman said officers he’s spoken to have said their resources are being pushed to the limits. They’ve told him when they’re called to situations around the Queen West CHC, it’s basically a catch-and-release program.

Currently in Toronto there is one official safe injection site running near Yonge and Dundas streets, with more slated to open in the coming months.