Premier Doug Ford says there’s “no reason” to have four overdose-prevention sites in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood following the province’s decision last week to revamp its funding model, which includes not renewing licences to three existing sites.
“Having four within a kilometre in a neighbourhood, they’re upset,” Ford said during a media availability in Etobicoke on Monday morning.
“I always believe in listening to neighbourhoods, listening to people, I’m going to go down there and pay them a visit.”
The Ford government announced Friday afternoon the approval of 15 overdose-prevention sites as licences for 21 existing sites were set to expire on Sunday.
Under the plan, three existing sites that weren’t approved would start winding down while three others were under review.
The sites allow those with drug addictions to get rehabilitation supports as well as a safe place to use their drugs.
“We’re supporting them. We’re putting them in a wrap-around facility that we get these people support, and we’re going to help them any way we can,” Ford said.
“But there’s really no reason to have four sites within a kilometre in one neighbourhood.”
Street Health near Dundas and Sherbourne streets, which costs $250,000 to operate for one year, was slated to close. The other Toronto location is in Kensington Market.
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Coun. Joe Cressy said on Monday that those sites slated to close received legal exemptions from the federal government to remain open, except they will operate without funding from the province.
“There is still time for the province to do the right thing, that they can still listen to the health professionals and experts, to the front-line providers and people who use drugs — they can still reverse this decision,” Cressy said during a news conference at Toronto city hall.
“We find ourselves in a situation whereby we have lifesaving health-care programs that will be funded through bake sales.”
Community advocates say those who are homeless, have mental-health challenges or live in poverty will be most affected by the cuts.
“We’re in the midst of the worst public crisis in a generation, so why is the government of Ontario cutting services?” Kapri Rabin, executive director Street Health, said.
“The government should be doing everything it can to prevent the number of deaths due to overdoses from increasing in 2019.”
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Latest figures indicate more than 629 Ontarians died from opioid overdoses in the first six months of last year, according to Public Health Ontario, an increase of 80 over the year-before period.
In addition, there were 6,688 opioid-related emergency department visits in the province in the first nine months of 2018 and another 1,544 hospitalizations.
Licences for existing overdose prevention sites had been set to expire on Jan. 31, but were extended to March 31, pending review of applications for sites under the government’s new model.
The 15 approved sites come from 21 applications, while the government has earmarked $31 million in annual funding.
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— With files from Ryan Rocca and The Canadian Press