'Big weight off our shoulders': Approved Saskatoon safe consumption site first of its kind in Sask.
Saskatchewan’s first safe injection site will move drug users inside from the streets, AIDS Saskatoon executive director Jason Mercredi says.
"We want to make sure that they have every opportunity to engage there and have a facility that they no longer have to do it in public spaces, so kids don’t need to see what they’re doing," Mecredi said.
AIDS Saskatoon has received the go-ahead from Health Canada to open a safe consumption site – a supervised space where drug users can consume illegal substances – in the former Pleasant Hill Bakery. The goal of the safe consumption site is to help stop the spread of HIV and prevent overdoses, he said.
"It’s a big weight off our shoulders. We’ve been working on this for a number of years now."
The facility will have a waiting area, consumption space and drop-in room with outreach services. It will also include high ceilings, larger rooms and more windows, resembling a safe consumption site in Lethbridge, to accommodate drug users who don’t do well in tight spaces.
The site is close to both St. Paul’s Hospital and St. Mary's Wellness and Education Centre. AIDS Saskatoon had to meet five Health Canada requirements, including community consultation, to receive approval. The group hopes to open the site next year.
Referring to Pleasant Hill, Mercredi said: "Sadly, it is the epicenter for the HIV epidemic. It’s the epicenter for the overdose crisis. It’s the epicenter for the crystal meth crisis."
AIDS Saskatoon spent $400,000 from its reserve funds for capital costs, he said.
The cost to operate the site 24 hours per day, 365 days per year would be $1.4 million, he said. He declined to say where that money would come from.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority said it is aware Health Canada has approved the safe consumption site, spokesperson Amanda Purcell said in an e-mailed statement.
"We have received a proposal for funding from AIDS Saskatoon, and will take that request into consideration as part of our regular budgetary process."
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health did not say whether it supports the project, would provide assistance, or if it has concerns.
An email statement from a spokesperson said the ministry is aware of the funding request to the SHA and referred CTV News to AIDS Saskatoon.
A recent Saskatoon Police Services report called for an immediate plea for federal and provincial funding to ensure enough officers are available for the opening of the site in order to prevent social and criminal issues.
A copy of a letter addressed to AIDS Saskatoon, also included in the report, said police believe in the philosophy of harm reduction and support a safe consumption site as long as it helps direct clients to other services.
Mayor Charlie Clark said in February the decision to approve the site rests with the federal government but the city would provide support.