South Riverdale Community Health Centre faces, responds to scrutiny for safe injection site

The community health centre opens its doors to ease help the mind of the community after recent controversy

The purpose of this image is to show the main discussion of the article or the center of controversy in my story.
A man stands at the South Riverdale Community Health Centre on Queen Street on March 4, 2024. (Liam La Chapelle/Toronto Observer)  

A business owner near a controversial safe-injection site in Leslieville says the community health centre needs to better manage the program it oversees.

“I am not opposed to having an injection site,” said Hannah Oh, who owns a convenience store across the street. “They just need to have better control of the site and clients.”

The Consumption and Treatment Service (CTS), located at the South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC) on Queen Street East near Carlaw Avenue, is “a health service where people inject, snort or orally consume pre-obtained drugs in a safe, hygienic and welcoming environment under the supervision of trained staff,” according to the centre’s website.

A class-action lawsuit, filed earlier this year with the Ontario Supreme Court of Justice, claims the safety and quality of the neighbourhood near the CTS has declined significantly since the site opened in 2017.

Oh said she’s had people come into her shop that she believes are intoxicated.

“Sometimes we have people come into the store high on drugs and often cause trouble.” she said. “When they are being aggressive towards us, our employees and customers, we feel unsafe. Witnessing the shooting in the summer makes it feel incredibly unsafe. We also should have more police patrolling the neighbourhood because we have a lot of children.”

The death of Karolina Huebner-Makurat

On July 7, 2023, Karolina Huebner-Makurat, a 44-year-old mother of two was killed, while walking on Queen Street, by a stray bullet from an attempted robbery that occurred just outside of the SRCHC.

Toronto Police have also charged one of the staff members of SRCHC Khalila Zara Mohammed with obstruction of justice and accessory after the fact to an indictable offense.

Since the shooting, many have raised safety concerns in the area and pointed blame at the safe injection site for the cause.

Leslieville resident Jacquline Court and local business JSCS Inc. (Eastside Social) launched the class-action lawsuit against the health centre. The action had not been certified when was made public in the media in February.

“Given this is a matter that would be before the courts, it is important for us not to comment. What we can say, however, is that South Riverdale Community Health Centre remains focused on both public health and public safety,” SRCHC said in a statement.

Moves to address safety

In the aftermath of Huebner-Makurat’s death, the group Leslieville Neighbours for Community Safety was formed by residents from the area.

SRCHC also appointed a committee to make recommendations on how to improve safety.

SRCHC held an open-house event in early March to expand their outreach to the community and introduce people to the work that is going on there. The open house was attended by a Toronto Observer reporter, and was one of a series of open-house events put on by the centre.

Jason Altenberg, the CEO of the South Riverdale Community Health Centre told CBC news, “It will help show residents the importance of their (safe-injection site) work, which spans beyond harm reduction and into areas like health care, transportation and social services, and let them know their concerns around safety are taken seriously.”

The open house had several stations that explained different programs, like the safe injection site, the community garden and programs for seniors and youth.

For the harm reduction/needle exchange program, the SRCHC said it provides easy access to the tools and information necessary to keep drug users healthy, educates the public on drug use and advocates for the rights of drug users.

More than 900 overdoses reversed

SRCHC said the site also provides sterile materials, and can assist with injecting so people do not harm themselves. The supervised site helps prevent drug users from using alone, and there is someone there in case of emergency.

The medical staff receive training and safety practice with Naloxone administration and oxygen use as revival techniques. Naloxone is a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

After someone consumes drugs, they are allowed to leave the site if they are able.

The Queen Street site had more than 10,000 visits for drug consumption in 2022, and more than 5,000 visits in the first half of 2023. Staff have reversed more than 900 overdoses since the site opened in 2017.

The goals of safe-consumption sites are to “help prevent overdose deaths, facilitate entry into addiction treatment programs, reduce the spread of bloodborne infections (e.g., HIV, hepatitis C), and reduce the strain on emergency medical services,” according to Health Canada.

About this article

Posted: Mar 7 2024 12:00 pm
Filed under: Business Crime Education Mental Health News Politics Science & Health