Safe drug injection site at Homes First shelter
In April 2023, a safe drug injection site opened at the existing Homes First shelter at 545 Lakeshore Blvd. W. The location raises concerns: it’s close to the Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre (WNC), schools, Little Norway Park, and entrances to several residential buildings. Residents have reported increased violence and security incidents, people using outside the WNC and in the park, and more impaired individuals in the neighbourhood.
To learn more about the situation and what we can all do to increase safety while supporting those in need, the BQNA invited representatives from Homes First and the Toronto Police Service 14 Division to our meeting on October 11, 2023. What we learned was both useful and reassuring.
Purpose of the safe drug injection site
Homes First explained that the safe injection site is meant to reduce drug use in the surrounding community. Known as an “Urgent Public Health Need” site, the location was chosen by public health authorities because shelter residents already were using at alarming rates, with one of the highest overdose rates of any shelter in the city. Much of that use was already happening in the community. So the safe injection site was set up to move the existing use out of the community and into the shelter.
What you should know about the site
We learned this key information from Homes First:
The location was mandated by Toronto Public Health.
The safe injection site is only for residents of Homes First’s shelter – it is not a public site – so it shouldn’t attract additional drug users to the area.
As the Homes First team develops stronger relationships with its residents, their ability to bring their drug use into the shelter (instead of the community) should improve.
·But users who aren’t shelter residents can’t access the site and may continue using in the community.
Homes First staff supervise users inside the shelter so they don’t overdose, but can’t stop people from leaving the shelter afterward, as long as it’s safe for them to do so.
More than half the residents at 545 Lakeshore are refugees, who are not the user population.
The capacity of the shelter increased after the pandemic when some shelters closed.
The third floor of the shelter is now open to accommodate male residents. Originally the shelter was for women and couples only.
We also heard from 14 Division and from the executive director of the WNC:
Police have been actively supporting our neighbourhood and have visited every tent/encampment to provide supports.
Police and the WNC both feel they have a good working relationship with each other and the shelter.
The WNC believes they have good emergency protocols, are able to enforce their code of conduct (including no drug use on their premises), and their staff are equipped to deal with these issues.
What we can do
Call 911 if someone is in immediate danger (including overdosing) or a crime is being committed.
To report a non-emergency crime to police (e.g., theft or property damage), call 416-808-2222 or visit their web site.
If someone seems to be in a mental health crisis, call 211 for the Toronto Community Crisis Service. They will dispatch trained teams of mental health crisis workers who can:
intervene in non-emergency situations.
interrupt disruptive behaviour.
conduct wellness checks.
connect people with services.
Consider carrying a naloxone kit which are available for free at certain pharmacies. Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre offers a 1-hour training program on how to recognize an opioid overdose and the use of naloxone to reverse it.
At a broader community level, the WNC has offered to host a community safety audit and suggested a nighttime safety walk. We will discuss that more with them.
We’ll also look into things we can do as a community to help the refugee population living in the shelter – stay tuned!
All of this still leaves open some important questions: why did Toronto Public Health mandate a safe injection site here, with no community consultation? And how will city agencies address concerns arising from that decision?
To answer these questions, we’ve invited representatives from Toronto Public Health and the City’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration to the BQNA meeting on November 8, 2023. Keep checking the bqna.ca for further information.
Links to resources about the City's drug strategy, safety, and homelessness strategy.
SafeTO: This is a general overview of the City's Ten-Year Community Safety and Well-Being Plan.
Toronto Community Crisis Service: The City's new alternative client centered approach to responding to someone in crisis that focuses on health, prevention and well-being.
HousingTO 2020-2023 Action Plan - a fulsome plan for action across the full spectrum of housing.
Housing & Homelessness Research & Reports: here you can find reports for issues relating to homelessness data to data on subsidized housing.