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Syringes found steps away from school playground in downtown Toronto

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 9th, 2017

NEEDLES

“The needles are over here!”

That was the surprising and concerning direction I received today from a group of elementary students from St. Michael’s Choir School. The parking lot beside their playground has been riddled with used syringes for months. They also directed me to the rock garden right beside the school’s front doors on Bond Street, where we found yet another syringe as students walked past to go for lunch.

We found more used needles in a nearby laneway and on the sidewalk. All just steps from The Works, Toronto’s first safe injection site. On Wednesday, it officially became a permanent fixture on Victoria Street, steps away from Yonge-Dundas Square, theatres, restaurants, the Eaton Centre and Ryerson University.

The safe injection site opened on an interim basis in August. Back in July, before the site opened, we spoke to Chane Beyene, an area parking lot attendant, about the influx of needles he was finding in his lot. He says he’s only seen a small decrease in the amount of people shooting up in his lot since the site opened in August, which is adjacent to St. Michael’s Choir School.

“People continue to come and use the area,” he says. “They don’t care, I tell them ‘Don’t use near the school yard.’ They don’t care.”

Toronto city councillor Joe Mihevc, a big supporter of the sites, says the amount of discarded syringes out in the open means “that’s a sign people aren’t feeling comfortable going in [the safe injection sites] yet.”

Mihevc also says people who find the needles should contact Toronto Public Health. Sources tell CityNews that faculty at St. Michael’s have contacted the authorities about the needles around the school, and the syringes continue to be a health and safety concern.

Safe injection sites are meant to give people a space to use drugs safely, preventing overdoses and bringing street use inside. The Works’ manager Shaun Hopkins says the amount of needles around the site and near a school is concerning.

Starting Monday, Hopkins says they’ll be dispatching peer outreach workers to try and bring users off the street.

“Two peers will go out three times a week and they’ll go in this neighbourhood to find people who are using and help be that bridge back to us,” he explains.

Last week, around 130 people used The Works’ services, a record number, and one which the organizers say is expected to go up as the location expands its hours of operation.

Two more safe injection sites in Toronto have been approved by Health Canada. One, in South Riverdale, will open this November, while another, near Richmond and Bathurst streets, will open in December.

A fourth temporary site, currently operated by volunteers in Moss Park, started the process to become an official permanent site on Nov. 2.

As the City provides resources for those battling potentially deadly addictions, neighbouring residents and business owners are concerned whether enough resources are being put toward keeping the areas around the sites safe.

Toronto Police spokesperson Mark Pugash tells CityNews “we’re monitoring both public safety and quality of life concerns for the general public and collecting data.”

 

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