The Crime from Drugs discussion is already taking place at coffee shops and bars as Ford's Toronto is left to consider the set-up of supervised injection sites for the mentally ill to inject drugs like heroin in a clean, supervised environment.
While an injection study tries to avoid a scenario of angry residents; considering that in Lucerne, Switzerland, one site had to be shuttered after six months because of the uproar, it’s clear that no neighbourhood wants the crime that follows drug use, although some Parkdale residents were mixed in their reactions, with some offering support for the idea and others, abject disapproval.
Parkdale, while full of young professionals is also home to a plethora of shelters, soup kitchens and low-income housing. In addition to the methadone clinic, the local community health centre runs a weekday needle exchange program. The neighbourhood is also home to CAMH and an activity centre that operates a drop-in for the mentally ill and homeless.
Jayme Poisson, Staff Reporter for the Toronto Star interviewed seven stakeholders for their comments.
Jürgen Rehm, director of social and epidemiological research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said a site should be close to where there’s already a lot of injection drug use. “For example, Parkdale. But not only there,” he said, adding that "drug use in Toronto is more spread out than in other cities, such as Vancouver, where it’s concentrated in the Downtown Eastside and finding a community that will accept a drug injection site is another critical factor." While Rehm said he didn’t want to single out the gritty west-end neighbourhood, that Parkdale is a contender comes as no surprise to most.
Sheryl, 39, a former addict who didn’t want to give her last name said,“There’s a large community of drug users here and I think it would probably be one of the more ideal and necessary locations.”
Rob Dee, 52, has lived in Parkdale for 50 years. The truck driver believes a supervised site is a good idea, even it moves in next door. “I’ve seen more bodies lying in lane ways than you can imagine,” he said, adding it could save lives and prevent disease transmission.
But for Roula Kyrou, it’s a different story. “We get dumped with everything,” she said of Parkdale’s reputation for being a hub of social services. Just last year, Kyrou tried to get a local methadone clinic ousted from her street. And while she says the methadone clinic isn’t as bad as she had anticipated, “I’ve got kids. I don’t want people on drugs loitering.”
Robert Maynard, 41, “Parkdale’s a special place in that it does have to care for a lot of people,” said this Parkdale resident. But while the filmmaker thinks the community would ultimately accept a supervised injection site, he questioned if it would make it too depressing, or further segregate it from the rest of the city. “I think Parkdale will take it, but do we want to give it to (Parkdale) because it will take it?”
For Dennis Long, executive director of Breakaway Addiction Services, which runs the methadone clinic in Parkdale, the bottom line is that sites in Toronto are long overdue. “We lose a number of people in Toronto every year to overdoses as a direct result of injecting in places where there’s nobody available to help them,” he said, adding that while deciding where a site could go will be tricky, it’s also solvable.
It should come as no surprise that Parkdale’s city councillor, left-leaning Gord Perks said that setting up safe injection sites is “good sound public health policy.”
On the other side of the debate, Mayor Rob Ford has said he does not support injection sites as a form of drug treatment. Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is not in favour of supervised injection sites. “My concern is there needs to be sufficient assurances within the community that the quality of life will not be put in jeopardy,” Blair said. “They have been doing it in Vancouver for some years and there have been issues that have arisen there. I don’t know of any place in Toronto where that couldn’t have a significant negative impact on the communities.”
Some have suggested the Toronto Islands would be a good site while others even suggested providing bus fare to Vancouver as an option but don't these suggestions seem like cruel solutions to those saddled with mental illness? Then again, isn't providing drugs instead of treatment options to the mentally ill just as cruel?