Saskatoon

AIDS Saskatoon says door-to-door consultation found support for safe-injection site

AIDS Saskatoon says a survey of the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood found support in the community for the organization's plans to open Saskatchewan's first safe-injection site for drug users.

AIDS Saskatoon knocked on more than 2,000 doors

An injection kit is shown at a supervised injection facility in Vancouver. AIDS Saskatoon is planning to open Saskatchewan's first safe-injection site on 20th Street in Pleasant Hill. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

AIDS Saskatoon says a survey of the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood found support in the community for the organization's plans to open Saskatchewan's first safe-injection site for drug users.

Jason Mercredi, executive director of AIDS Saskatoon, said representatives knocked on more than 2,200 doors and garnered more than 250 responses. The organization also hosted 10 open houses.

"We knew the need was in the community but having such overwhelming support from the door knocking, and then open houses, was a bit of a surprise," said Mercredi.

AIDS Saskatoon recently purchased the former Pleasant Hill Bakery building to become the new home of the organization and safe-injection site.

If the group is successful in a federal application to open the site, it would join 27 others in the country that are exempt from the Controlled Drug and Substance Act, according to Health Canada's website.

People supported the site for a variety of reasons, including drug users having a place to discard needles, cutting down on drug use in public, reducing overdoses and minimizing the potential spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, according to AIDS Saskatoon.

Discarded needles a problem

Mercredi said discarded needles are a problem in the neighbourhood that needs to be addressed. He said one grandmother told workers that children had been pretending to use needles they found on the street while walking to school.

"Some of the kids pretend they know how to shoot just because the needles are so prevalent in the community and so the needle cleanup — it's pretty obvious that we need to do a better job cleaning up improperly discarded needles in that neighbourhood," said Mercredi.

Mercredi said AIDS Saskatoon plans to increase the number of needle patrols and do daily sweeps of the nearby school grounds once it moves into the new building in Pleasant Hill.

Crime worries

Concerns about increasing crime were also top of mind for some of the survey participants, Mercredi said.

Door-knocking for the survey took place in February and March, as the community was dealing with a spate of stabbings and shootings in Pleasant Hill.

Mercredi said AIDS Saskatoon staff talked about putting the survey on hold but ultimately decided it was the right time to ask for input.

"This is when we're gonna get people at their most raw, you know, when crime is on people's minds," he said.

Addressing concerns 

Other concerns people voiced included potential increases in crime, drug sales and the presence of illicit drugs in the neighbourhood, according to AIDS Saskatoon. More community safety patrol groups and better lighting were among the things respondents said could help alleviate these concerns.

Mercredi said AIDS Saskatoon's continuing partnerships with the Saskatoon Police Service, the Saskatoon Fire Department and the Okihtcitawak Patrol Group will be needed to address concerns around crime and safety.

He said transparency about complaints will be key to maintaining relationships with the community long-term.

"We want to make sure that we have mechanisms in place permanently with this site — any complaints that come in are documented, we have a response plan, we respond to it," he said.

"Then we report back out to the community what we did on it and then improvements that we can make for the future."

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