By Raneem Alozzi
Giorgio Mammoliti, Ward 7 Toronto city councillor, advocated to a crowd of people against the Toronto Public Health’s (TPH) works safe injection site on Ryerson’s campus Monday.
An hour before Mammoliti arrived at campus to speak about his concerns, he tweeted about his disapproval of the supervised injection site located at 277 Victoria St., and the surrounding area, where many people have been camping out for shelter.
I will be in front of the Tim Horton’s across the street from Toronto Public Health (Works Safe Injection Site) at 2:00PM today to bring attention to the disaster the area has become.
— Giorgio Mammoliti (@mammolitiward7) May 28, 2018
“All [safe service sites] are going to do is bring people onto the sidewalks, where they’re going to feel comfortable,” said Mammoliti of substance users, adding they will inject substances on the street.
He also told the crowd of surrounding reporters and community members that the province should present real solutions to encourage substance users to stop abusing.
Mammoliti held his impromptu news press in front of the Tim Horton’s where planters were recently installed to prevent homeless people from sleeping on the sidewalk.
The planters were a topic of controversy on campus as they resulted in the forced removal of a community member, Jason, who used the sidewalk as a shelter.
”You’re increasing the amount of addicts and you’re increasing their problems,” said Mammoliti. “We have to get where to the problem lies and it’s why they’re taking drugs.”
Mammoliti also mentioned his colleague, councillor Joe Mihevc of Ward 21, is against the city’s safe injection services, and continued to relay a message on his behalf.
Councillor Joe Cressy of Ward 20 replied to Mamolitti’s tweets saying,”You can’t provide treatment to someone who is already dead. Supervised injection is an evidenced-based healthcare response to an overdose crisis that is killing Torontonians.”
The supervised injection site opened Nov. 8, 2017, making it Toronto’s first permanent safe injection service. The Fred Victor Centre Site and the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre officially opened permanent injection sites in February and March, respectively.
Insite, the first supervised injection site, was launched in Vancouver in 2003. A study published in 2012 showed that fatal overdoses dropped by 35 per cent in the vicinity of Insite in the two years after it opened.
The service site offers a safe and hygienic environment for substance users to inject pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of nurses. However, like Mammoliti, some people are questioning the effectiveness of the site, including business owners.
The Works, a division of TPH, has also been operating a safe needle exchange program out of the Victoria Street building since 1989.
Ramzi Shenouda, the owner of Mobile Klinik at 10 Dundas St. E., said the injection site is attracting “drug addicts” and “drug trafficking” to the area.
“It’s becoming an unsafe area and it isn’t pleasant to be around. You’re scared for your life and health and it’s bad for our businesses,” he said. After Shenouda’s son was accepted into Ryerson for engineering, he said his son chose another school because of the “unsafe environment on campus.”
Shenouda said it’s not his responsibility to accommodate, but it’s his duty to worry about his business and as a parent, he worries about students coming into an unsafe environment.
Ryerson emailed The Eye a statement stating the university believes harm reduction is “critically important” and supports initiatives that offer help and practical options for at-risk populations.
“We recognize that this site has caused concern and challenges for the community in the area. Therefore, the university is actively working with city, TPH, the [Business Improvement Areas] and other community partners to ensure that the vital Yonge and Dundas area—and our campus—remains a people friendly, safe and inclusive environment, not just for students, but for all community members,” the statement continued.
Data released by TPH in February showed Toronto Paramedic Services received between 57 to 207 suspected calls for opioid overdoses in the downtown core area surrounding Yonge and Dundas and extending to King Street.
TPH also released data in January finding that 94 homeless people died in Toronto in 2017—23 of them died of drug overdose.
Gabriel Weetom, a second-year sports media student, said he has never felt threatened or unsafe by the presence of homeless people on campus.
“It might be for some people, but that has never been an issue for me,” he said.
If someone wants to get the kind of help the service site offers, Weetom said, they should have access to it safely.
In addition to supervised injection, the site offers education on safe and sterile injection, overdose prevention and intervention, counselling, housing and income information as well as drug treatment.
But that’s not all they do, said Brenda, who has been coming to the supervised injection site since it opened and now even works at the site.
“It’s a lot of supporting one another. They’re not here to give people the drugs, but it’s better than someone going out in an alleyway to take something and then going under,” she said.
Brenda, who chose to only identify with her first name, said the site has helped drug users to find jobs by helping them create safety kits and offering peer support to the people seeking it.
In reference to the camps set up by homeless people across from the Tim Horton’s on Victoria Street, Brenda said the camps are caused by a housing issue as opposed to a drug issue, adding that addressing Toronto’s housing problem is what Mammoliti should be concerned about.
The councillor, however, said he believes the site makes it unsafe for users and the surrounding community.
“[Substance users] have told the police department not to show up around here… It’s only going to get worse unless we do something,” said Mammoliti.
“He might as well just line us up and shoot us. That’s what he’s doing. He’s basically saying our lives don’t matter,” said Brenda. “Just because we take drugs doesn’t mean we’re not worth taking care of. We matter too, and we have people who love and care for us.”
TPH did not respond to request for comment in time for publication.