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Toronto Drug-use sites in city scramble to find funding after provincial cuts

A supervised drug-use site in downtown Toronto says its fate is unknown as of the end of April when its reserve funds are expected to run out, following cuts by the provincial government on Friday.

Kapri Rabin, the executive director of the downtown Street Health Clinic, learned late Friday afternoon that the province had rejected their application for funding. And while they were able to get an exemption from the federal government to legally continue operating, they are now scrambling to figure out how to fund their operation.

The Street Health site, at Dundas and Sherbourne streets, serves roughly 100 people a week in a part of the city that has been most acutely affected by the deadly opioid crisis. Since they opened last June, more than 30 overdoses have been reversed at the site.

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On Sunday afternoon, Ms. Rabin said they had determined that their organization’s reserves will sustain them until the end of April. She couldn’t say what will happen after that.

“For the government to pull funding from an area that’s so vulnerable … it’s very disturbing,” Ms. Rabin said. “It just seems random, in my view.”

In Kensington Market, a 15-minute drive away, Bill Sinclair was in a similar scramble this weekend. He is executive director of St. Stephen’s Community House, whose supervised drug-use site’s funding was also cut off by the province on Friday. Now, they are hoping to fundraise $25,000 to keep the site – which serves roughly 150 people each month – up and running until they can figure out a more permanent solution.

“I just think now’s not a good time to be closing any sites,” Mr. Sinclair said.

Toronto paramedics received more than 300 calls for suspected overdoses last month, as the city continues to grapple with an opioid crisis that is killing thousands of people across Canada each year.

Both Ms. Rabin and Mr. Sinclair said there was no indication they would not make the list of approved sites announced on Friday by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care under its new consumption and treatment services model.

Six other Toronto sites did make that list, along with three in Ottawa and one each in London, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, St. Catharines and Thunder Bay. Minister of Health Christine Elliott had said previously that up to 21 sites could be approved. According to her press secretary Hayley Chazan, the province will continue to assess applications that come in and may approve more sites.

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Ms. Rabin said their site costs roughly $20,000 a month to run, but under the province’s new model, it would cost them three times that because of increased staffing and renovation requirements.

Her hope is that the province will come through with funding, but if not, she said they will be looking to other levels of government. While she’s happy to accept donations, she doesn’t see fundraising as a viable long-term solution.

“We will be happy to take funding wherever it comes from,” she said. “Our goal is to keep the service up and running as long as we can. But right now … our doors will be closed as of the end of April.”

The future of Toronto’s busiest supervised drug-use site – The Works – also remains up in the air, as they continue talks with the province about the status of their funding.

Since August, 2017, more than 40,000 people have visited The Works and nearly 800 overdoses have been reversed there, according to Toronto Public Health. Local businesses have complained about the site, which is near Ryerson University and Yonge and Dundas Square, saying it has resulted in an increase in discarded needles and drug use in the surrounding area.

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