stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
Kensington residents rally behind supervised drug-use site
space
space
By MARCUS GEE
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Monday, April 22, 2019 – Page A6

After Ontario's Progressive Conservative government announced last month that it would stop funding a number of supervised drug-use sites in the province, Premier Doug Ford suggested a reason: Neighbours often don't like them. While it is a good thing to help people suffering from drug addiction, he told reporters, "with all due respect ... if I put one beside your house, you'd be going ballistic." That, he said, was simply "the reality of things."

But in at least one famous Toronto neighbourhood, it is not the reality at all. Far from saying "not in my backyard," many business owners and residents in historic Kensington Market are rallying to support the local site. They are raising money to keep it running. They are writing protest letters and signing petitions. At a boisterous demonstration to press the government to keep it open, they chanted slogans and waved placards saying things such as "no cuts in a crisis" and "the market cares for everyone."

A warren of city blocks just west of Spadina Avenue in the city's downtown west end, Kensington has evolved over the generations from a bustling marketplace where Jewish immigrants sold pickles and chickens from pushcarts to a Bohemian enclave of bars, cafés, taco joints and vintage-clothing stores. It has struggled for years with homelessness and drug use in its narrow streets and alleys.

The small supervised drug-use site at St. Stephen's Community House on Augusta Avenue has been open for a year. It is one of two in Toronto that lost its provincial funding. The other is Street Health at Dundas and Sherbourne Streets in the east end. A third, Toronto Public Health's The Works, is under review.

The defunding decision, announced with little explanation on March 29 in the midst of a countrywide opioid crisis, caused an uproar among health experts and advocates of better treatment for drug users. Pioneered in Vancouver, supervised drug-use sites give users a secure, hygienic space where they can take their drugs. If they suffer an overdose, trained staff are there to revive them with oxygen or the overdose-reversal medication naloxone.

Overdoses are killing people at a staggering rate in Toronto, which saw 22 succumb last month alone. The Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood is one of the top five in the city for suspectedoverdose calls to emergency services. So for many Kensington locals, the provincial decision is hard to understand. The site on Augusta has been operating without any noticeable fuss or trouble.

David Beaver, co-owner of Wanda's Pie in the Sky, which offers pies and other treats across the street, said he didn't know until recently that it was even there.

He would far rather see people use drugs in safety than sneak into the bathroom at his place. "It's so idiotic," he says of the funding cut. "Just small-minded thinking." Down the street at 4 Life Natural Foods, owner Potsothy Sallapa, a market veteran whom everyone knows as "Pots," says that if drug users don't visit the site, "where are they going to go: the schoolyard, the park, the street?" When homeless people started sleeping under the big compressor for his refrigeration unit out back, he didn't call the police; he left sleeping bags out so they wouldn't freeze in the winter.

"As citizens, we have to take care of them," he said.

Even the local school is speaking up. Two school-council members from the Kensington Community School sent a letter to Mr.

Ford urging him to restore funding. They said the evidence shows sites such as these improve, not threaten, public security nearby.

"As parents with children in a downtown elementary school," they said, "we have a strong, vested interest in the safety of our neighbourhood."

More than 5,500 people have signed one online petition. Thousands of dollars in donations to fund the site have come in from Kensington and beyond, including $20,000 on Thursday from the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society. More was to be raised at a drinks-and-dance event at a local bar on Sunday.

Not every supervised drug-use site has such sympathetic neighbours. Not all are trouble-free, either. This winter, Calgary police reported that crime had soared around one local site, Safeworks.

In Toronto, merchants complained about more crime and open drug use after The Works opened up steps from the giant Eaton Centre shopping mall.

Nearby Ryerson University complained about more vandalism and theft. In Cabbagetown, a few blocks to the east, the local city councillor claimed last summer that the area had the most such sites of any neighbourhood in the world - five within a one-kilometre radius. Mr. Ford was picking up on that complaint when he talked about local opposition to the sites.

But St. Stephen's is on a much smaller scale. It is open for just four hours a day. About 130 to 150 people come in to inject every month, around the same number that visit The Works every day. So why take away its funding?

St. Stephen's says the government has never given any justification in writing. When asked by The Globe and Mail, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said only that ministry requirements include "providing a viable community engagement and liaison plan, with preference given to sites that offered consistent hours of operation throughout the week."

Given its tight relationship with the community and its regular opening hours - Sunday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. - the Kensington site would seem to fit the bill.

One reason for the decision may be that there is another site nearby. St. Stephen's is about a 15minute walk from one at Queen and Bathurst Streets. The Premier has said it doesn't make sense to have sites in close proximity to each other. But Lorie Steer, director of housing and homeless services at St. Stephen's, says studies show drug users won't go far from their usual hangouts to use supervised drug-use sites. So having one in the heart of the community, in a place locals are used to visiting for free meals and drug supplies, is a big plus.

She rejects another possible reason, too. The Ford government says it wants the drug-use sites to do more that just provide a place to use drugs; it wants them to provide addiction treatment and health and social services, too.

Operating in a big, busy community centre with a long history of helping the neighbourhood's marginalized people, St. Stephen's is well positioned to do just that, Ms. Steer says. It offers visitors help with everything from getting child care and mental-health support to finding jobs and apartments.

The site strives to be as approachable as it can. The basement space has a welcoming dorm-room feel, with easy chairs in the corner to rest in. Staff hand out plastic-wrapped packages of injection and smoking supplies to people who stop by.

On one morning last week, Joseph Ascenzo, 34, came in to inject crystal meth, the potent methamphetamine. He said he felt safe using at the site, with people he knows close by. His wife died of an overdose a couple of years ago. He wishes the site had been open when she was around; if so, she might have lived.

Associated Graphic

When people started sleeping behind his store, Potsothy (Pots) Sallapa, owner of 4 Life Natural Foods in Toronto's Kensington Market, left sleeping bags instead of calling the police.

FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main David_Macfarlane Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page