SASKATOON -- A harm reduction organization in Saskatoon has been working to open the province’s first supervised consumption site for five years and is moving ahead without provincial funding.

“We can’t be waiting around anymore. Overdoses are skyrocketing in the city and as a result, people are very much at risk for dying. Not to mention the fact that emergency services are being over-utilized,” said Jason Mercredi, executive director of AIDS Saskatoon.

AIDS Saskatoon had requested $1.3 million from the province to open the site around the clock 365 days a year — allowing staff to serve about 250 people a day, according to Mercredi.

However, he said he found out before COVID-19 hit that the group wouldn’t be getting the funding.

Now AIDS Saskatoon is looks at reducing operations to move ahead with its supervised consumption site opening.

“Drug use isn’t a 9 to 5 habit. That said, any service is better than no service. And so, we’re going to be looking at scaled down hours and probably scaled down staffing model,” Mercredi said.

He said this model would accommodate around 50 to 70 people a day.

While it’s not ideal, Mercredi said it’s a crucial service.

“Edmonton, which is about three times our population, had less overdose calls in their city for the month of May. We had 262 and Edmonton only had 246.”

The Ministry of Health said it will spend $435 million on addictions and mental health services this year, including $1.4 million for a new crystal methamphetamine treatment centre in southern Saskatchewan.

“We had to set priorities. We just think right now, with the increase in addictions, that the focus for this year needed to be on treatment beds, on counselling, on medical supports,” said Health Minister Jim Reiter.

Reiter said this doesn’t mean the supervised consumption site won’t ever get the funding, but that some tough decisions needed to be made.

“It’s not in anyway a criticism of that site. It’s just a matter of priorities, where we needed to be. The crystal meth beds will be in Estevan but they’re intended to serve people who need treatment from anywhere in the province,” he said.

Mercredi said his group will keep pushing the province for money to run the site and help deal with the province’s HIV, overdose and crystal meth epidemics.

“We need to make sure that we’re dealing with this as effectively as we can.”

The consumption site is expected to open sometime this year.