In 2018, St. Stephen’s Community House banded together with our community to quickly open an Overdose Prevention Site (OPS). The Kensington Market neighbourhood was seeing a dramatic increase in injection drug use with, sadly, an alarming increase in overdose deaths amongst our service users.
Our OPS service has saved countless lives and brought hundreds of people at risk into our supportive environment where they access food, friendship, primary healthcare, housing help, employment supports, mental health counselling and support groups.
On Friday March 29, 2019, we learned from the Provincial Government that our site will be closed with the provincial funding cut-off. We were to shut our doors on April 1, 2019 in the midst of the public health crisis. That would mean sending our service users back to the streets where they are at risk of injury and death. On Monday, April 1st, we opened as usual with a Federal Exemption to provide a supervised injection service.
Community members are doing what they can: The Friends of Kensington Market held a rally to save the OPS. To raise money, Automaticamore hosted a dance party; Mary-Liz Power joined the Sporting Life 10K Run; and Night Shift and Frequencies held a charity cruise. The Toronto Overdose Prevention Society generously donated $20,000 in April 2019. And hundreds of other donors continue showing their kindness and community spirit by continuing to keep our doors open through the end of 2019.
On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, we held a joint press conference with Street Health to talk about the release of a report that examines the effectivess of OPS, their difficulities, and what would happen if they had to close. You can watch Jason Bourner, staff member of our OPS, speak about the need for our OPS at the conference. And you can read the report here.
Today, that need is still prevalent in the Kensington Market area. It has one of the highest overdose rates in Toronto and emergency department visits spiked. To accommodate people during the opioid overdose crisis, we increased our OPS hours and added an extra consumption space. March 29, 2021 marks the start of the third year without government funding.
Without that funding, keeping our OPS is not sustainable long-term. That means more people will not connect with the services they need, services like harm reduction, primary and mental health care, and housing. More people will use substances in public spaces and washrooms. More people will be charged with drug offences. Most importantly, more people will die from overdose.
With COVID-19, the need for the OPS has never been greater. There are two main reasons: 1) Occupancy restrictions on the OPS and supervised injection sites across Toronto means fewer people can use safely; and 2) The unregulated street drug supply in Toronto remains unpredictable and toxic. The resulting increase in overdose deaths is staggering:
During the first 15 weeks of COVID-19, Toronto saw an increase of 38.2% in overdose deaths.
In December 2020, more people died from overdoses in Toronto than in the previous three Decembers combined.
September 2020 had the greatest number of people die from overdose in Toronto since recording began, and the numbers have climbed since then. January saw a 48% increase from September.
You can help save lives: Donate Now to keep our OPS open! And contact your MPP!
And you can read some stories about the OPS closure and the need for more OPS in Toronto: