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Needles, dirty streets and crowds: Yonge BIA dealing with fallout of supervised safe injection site

Last Updated Nov 9, 2017 at 7:35 pm EST

As two additional supervised injection sites get set to open in Toronto before the New Year, concerns are surfacing surrounding the impact Toronto’s existing site is having on public health and safety.

Yesterday, CityNews reported on the discovery of syringes, pointed out by students steps away from the front doors of St. Michael’s Choir School in the downtown core – less than 300 metres away from the supervised injection site at Dundas and Victoria Streets.

On Thursday, the principal of that school told CityNews that he has called Toronto Public Health on five separate occasions since September for syringes found on or near school property.

“Their response has not been amazing. They have come, but not right away,” principal Linton Soares said. “Their response has been anywhere from an hour to an hour-and-a-half.”

Soares adds that more supports need to be put in place to assist the community with what has been an ongoing issue.

“This community should not have to bear that on our own”

Resources are a growing concern to keep the neighbourhoods surrounding these sites safe.

The Downtown Yonge BIA has had to take it upon themselves to clean up many of the syringes, paying to remove them from the streets. The BIA’s CEO, Mark Garner, says since the supervised injection site opened kitty-corner to YongeDundas Square they’ve noticed an increase in the needles.

“This is the busiest intersection in Canada, this is Canada’s main street, and it’s the number one tourist destination in Toronto,” Garner told CityNews.

“If this is the face that we put forward to the world we need to have the resources to be able to deal with these very complex issues and the increase in needles we’re finding in the area,” he added.

Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose riding includes the Toronto Public Health office injection site, recently took Mayor John Tory for a tour around the site and she echoes community concern that while the sites (which she supports) are receiving financial backing, the surrounding neighbourhood is not receiving adequate support to deal with a long list of issues from used syringes to drug dealers operating out in the open.

“I said specifically to the Mayor and to the chair of the board of health that what we needed was a coordinated approach to service delivery. You can’t just invest in safe injection services. That is important, but we need to make sure there’s wrap-around services.”

Getting a handle on the “unintended consequences” at the site near Yonge and Dundas and adding appropriate resources is paramount, according to Garner, before Toronto opens its next two sites.

In September, CityNews spoke with area businesses near the supervised injection site set to open this December near Queen West and Bathurst. Area business were asking for security to be added at the centre to help deter drug dealers and street level drug use. At the time, Councillor Joe Cressy declined to commit to added security telling CityNews “police are increasing and planning to increase their response and protocol to ensure 24-hour plans are in place for security of facilities.”

It’s a statement and promise, Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack calls ridiculous. “Mr. Cressy doesn’t have a realistic understanding of policing in this city. Our members are going from call to call right now, so for Mr. Cressy to put forward a position that we’re going to have these resources available for the safe injection sites is just untrue.”

A written statement from the Mayor’s office to CityNews this afternoon states “Mayor Tory is aware of the issue – it is part of a much larger problem that the City is working to address. The Mayor is dedicated to ensuring community safety and doing everything possible to prevent overdose deaths. He visited the area recently with Councillor Wong-Tam to speak to local residents and hear their concerns first hand. Toronto Police, Toronto Public Health, City of Toronto staff, the local councillor and the Mayor are all committed to working together to address this problem.”

Though it’s still unclear if that means more funding for resources will be set aside in the upcoming 2018 budget. Something Councillor Wong Tam and several other stakeholders in the heart of Canada’s largest city believe they deserve.