SASKATOON -- Saskatchewan’s first safe consumption site opened Thursday morning in Saskatoon.

“It just feels like a big weight off our shoulders to be honest. This has been five years of hard work,” said Jason Mercredi, Prairie Harm Reduction’s (PHR) executive director.

Mercredi said that opening of the facility has taken a huge weight off his shoulders.

The original plans for the facility were to be open 24/7 but with a lack of funding they can only be open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We all know addiction is not a nine to five habit, but it’s a start. And I think it’s important when we’re trying to do progressive initiatives,” Mercredi said.

He said he expects the first few days at the safe consumption site to be slow. But once the word gets out to the community that there’s a safe facility where users can consume their drugs, business should pick up.

PHR’s goal is to connect people to services and get them help they need, as well as giving them a safe and sterile space to consume their drugs.

“The opposite of addiction is connection,” Mercredi said.

He said the people who use their service may not feel comfortable searching for help elsewhere so having a facility like PHR, where they feel safe and can trust the staff, helps build relationships.

“Our people deserve to have a place in the community just like everybody else and we’re done pretending that they don’t,” Mercredi said.

He added that safe consumption sites are especially important now during the pandemic and winter approaching and as overdoses rise in the city and across the province.

There has also been a new policing unit in the area which is focused on engaging with people on the street and more foot patrol. PHR is also working with Okihtcitawak patrol group who do community safety patrols and pick up needles.

“The fact that we can offer that to the community is huge,” Mercredi said.

One Pleasant Hill resident echoed this: “I totally support it because I go around the community and I pick needles up. Maybe by having this building too there will be less dirty needles lying around the neighbourhood,” said Monica Kehijekonaham.

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) said it is worried about how close it is to schools – one of them being St. Mary’s Education and Wellness Centre.

“We continue to have concerns that the site is so close to schools. We've had good discussions with various groups and people involved. We feel like our concerns have been heard and everyone has the safety of school children in mind. We’re encouraged by tangible steps such as a dedicated police unit for Pleasant Hill and the good work of the Okihtcitawak Patrol Group,” Derrick Kunz, communications consultant at GSCS, said in a statement.

The space has seven booths where drug users can inject and inhale their drugs, as well as an isolated smoking room. Four people will be allowed in the facility at a time and Mercredi says the facility should be able to help 72 people a day.