Businesses and supporters across Saskatchewan donated more than $180,000 to Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR), the supervised consumption site, after the provincial government denied the site’s application for more support.
“It’s just showing the narrative on addictions is changing here in the prairies,” Jason Mercredi, PHR’s executive director, said.
Mercredi tallied up all the donations the site received since the Saskatchewan Government denied his request for additional funding almost one month ago.
Mercredi told Global News more than 60 businesses are supporting PHR, which he said was extremely humbling.
“It’s telling us that harm reduction is here to stay and that I think it’s pretty clear that the government got the funding decision wrong.”
Mercredi said the money will go towards hiring a paramedic and support worker, which will allow the site to remain open until 9 or 10 p.m. in the evening on weeknights. He also said PHR is hoping to buy equipment to start testing the drugs clients use, to ensure there aren’t any other substances in them.
“It’s not quite this staffing contingent we wanted, but the expansion is still better than nothing. And to offer drug testing services is going to be major,” he said.
Mercredi applied to the provincial government for an additional $1.3 million to hire more staff, including a dozen more paramedics, so the site could provide support to its clients 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The government’s decision not to support it kicked off a surge of financial support from businesses across the province. From pole dancing studios to bakeries, the donations flooded in.
Gordon and Jill Rawlinson, philanthropists and owners of Rawlco Radio, donated $20,000.
Saskatoon Co-op donated $10,000.
Kirby Wirchenko, the executive and artistic director for the Broadway Theatre, told Global News the theatre sold about 900 bags of popcorn over six days.
Wirchenko said the theatre boosted the price of the $7 per bag item to $10 and gave “100 per cent” of the proceeds, not just profits, to PHR.
“People were thrilled to not only buy the popcorn at 10 bucks, but they were thrilled to give us extra money. I know that one person bought three or four bags and left a $100 bill,” he said.
One anonymous donor contributed $1,000, raising the total to a little over $10,000.
Wirchenko said the fact that so many customers were willing to pay $10 for popcorn – even lining up for it – and so many small businesses were willing to support PHR while enduring the economic hardship brought on by COVID-19 shows the community cares.
“In the middle of a pandemic, when people are having maybe a stressed financial time,” he said, shows they believe “this is the right thing to do.”
And he said he hopes the support serves as a wake-up call to the government.
“I just wish someone would be big enough to come out and do one press conference and say, ‘you know what, we can be big enough that to admit that we maybe we were wrong, maybe we made a little mistake.”
Mercredi said the funding secures the position until the end of PHR’s fiscal year, next March.
There are a few fundraisers still ongoing, but he said the site needs government support to be sustainable.
Mercredi said the month since the Government denied PHR further funding has been its busiest yet.
“We’ve had a lot of overdoses, or near overdoses in the centre,” he told Global News.
“We had three last week.”
Saskatchewan is still in the midst of an overdose crisis.
103 people have died this year from confirmed or suspected overdoses, according to the provincial coroners service.
That’s almost a third of the total who died last year.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said “addressing overdoses in Saskatchewan cannot be a one-size-fits-all strategy.”
The statement also touted the $7.2 million the Government unveiled in the budget for targeted mental health and addictions supports and services.
Jennifer Graham also directed Global News to a previous statement, which said “Harm reduction programs are an important part of the continuum of mental health and addiction services funded by our government which also includes prevention, awareness, education and treatment services.
The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Services both fund PHR, though the amount from both did not increase in the recent budget.