Supervised Injection Services (SIS) are a critical piece in both saving lives and reducing the city-wide impacts of the opioid crisis that is gripping cities across North America, including Toronto. Without SIS, vulnerable users will turn to injecting alone in secluded areas. That risks adding to the thousands of people who have lost their lives to preventable overdoses in Ontario.
What I have heard from residents is that SIS sites do concentrate unintended impacts, including litter, drug dealing, theft, sexual assault and violence. This observation has been substantiated by the Toronto Police and 311 statistics. It is therefore important that all levels of government work together and improve coordination to mitigate the root causes of poverty, mental health and addiction. This includes immediately providing deeply affordable housing and more mental health, addiction and harm reduction services—not less.
In 2017, I hosted a Healthy Neighbourhood Summit and met with members of our community 34 times to address safety concerns within the Downtown East, and have worked with staff from Toronto Public Health, Municipal Licensing and Standards, Streets to Homes, Parks, Forestry and Recreation, and officers from Toronto Police Services to try and address the impacts of the opioid crisis. I have also personally given Mayor Tory a tour of conditions around the Victoria Street SIS. Most residents I speak to are not against the important life-saving services of SIS. Their primary concern is that the city and other orders of government have not properly addressed the local impacts outside of the SIS locations.
To help address these impacts, I advocated and successfully secured a new Downtown East Enhanced 12-Month Action Plan to provide additional supports and service levels to our downtown communities. The 36-point action plan includes increasing city service and staff levels to respond to the crisis we are seeing play out in our downtown. It also includes hiring new outreach workers, providing more services to vulnerable residents and facilitating community safety training. This work, which was approved this summer by City Council, will feed into a 5-year action plan to address the root causes due out in early 2019.
I have already reached out to the new Ontario Minister of Health, Minister Elliott, to discuss how critical SIS are to combating the opioid crisis, and have invited her to tour the Downtown East with me so we can visit either service providers and review her government's plans for mental health and addiction services.
You can read more about the 12-Month Action Plan by visiting here.