Saskatoon·Sask Budget 2022

Sask. government again leaves funding for supervised consumption site out of budget

Saskatchewan's government has once again left funding for the province's only supervised consumption site out of the provincial budget.

Community donations and fundraising key for Prairie Harm Reduction amid overdose crisis

Prairie Harm Reduction tries to help people at risk of overdose, HIV and Hepatitis C. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Saskatchewan's government has once again left funding for the province's only supervised consumption site out of the provincial budget.

"It's our government's job to protect all people and to support all people, and it's clear year after year that people that use substances are not being cared for by our government," said Kayla DeMong, executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR), the organization that runs the supervised consumption site in Saskatoon. 

PHR tries to help people at risk of overdose, HIV and Hepatitis C. At the site, clients can use drugs around a paramedic, access drug testing strips and get connected with other support services. The site does not provide clients with drugs, but it offers sterile equipment.

DeMong said PHR's request for the government's 2022-23 budget was the same as years prior: $1.3 million to offer services 24/7 in Pleasant Hill, a core neighborhood of Saskatoon. PHR also pitched models that would support less hours and require less dollars. The province said no. 

Mental health and addictions Minister Everett Hindley defended the government's decision to deny the site's request. 

He said the government has limited resources and funds other programming for PHR. Hindley also said overdoses aren't just limited to "this one particular area."

"We hear from people that are on the front lines, and from our officials that are dealing with this as well, that 75 per cent of the overdoses that they respond to, that the EMTs respond to, that paramedics respond to, occur in residences."

DeMong said PHR knows people are suffering across Saskatchewan. She said the province should provide more money and resources across the province, rather than classify it as an either/or situation.

She said the government is ignoring that about 500 people accessed the supervised consumption site more than 3,500 times combined in 2021.

"That's a pretty big population in this community, when you look at the drug user population in and around our site. Five-hundred people is no small amount, and those 500 people deserve support."

A smiling person with long hair and wearing a black T-shirt, a long silver necklace and blue jeans leans against a brick wall on a sunny city street.
Kayla DeMong is executive director at Prairie Harm Reduction. (Submitted by Kayla DeMong)

There was not a single fatal over dose at the site last year and only four overdoses total. Elsewhere, 446 people are suspected to have died from an overdose in Saskatchewan in 2021. This year, there are already 75 people suspected to have died because of drugs in January and February.

Hindley said the government will remain focused on providing "broader support" for addictions in Saskatchewan, then touted a new $650,000 hot-spotting program. He said this will allow government to be "flexible" and "reactive" to specific communities, neighbourhoods or areas experiencing issues with drugs. 

LISTEN | Finance Minister Donna Harpauer spoke with host Heather Morrison on Saskatoon Morning Wednesday: 
Health care spending is up, but there's still no money set aside in the province's latest budget for safe consumption sites. Guest host Heather Morrison speaks with Finance Minister Donna Harpauer on these topics and others.

He suggested this could include sending drug alerts, providing more Nalxone kits or parachuting outreach workers into an area. He said the government's goal is ultimately to connect people with support and treatment. The government promised $2.1 million toward new treatment beds in this budget, but it doesn't yet know where they will be.

A man wearing glasses and wearing a dark suit with a dotted tie
Everett Hindley is Saskatchewan's minister responsible for mental health and addictions. (Moreen Mugerwa/CBC)

Advocates like DeMong have long said treatment beds don't stop people from dying. She said the province needs to fund PHR's site as part of a more robust overdose crisis strategy. If they don't, she predicts another grim year for the province. 

"We've already lost hundreds of people to overdoses in this province last year. That will continue to grow." 

DeMong is hopeful PHR willl continue to do its part thanks to help from the community. She said the site was able to drum up wiidespread community support during the last 17 months. 

"We will continue our fundraising efforts. We will continue our merchandise line. We will continue to look for those donations and engage our community wherever possible to help support keeping the doors open at this site." 

Mayor says budget misses mark for mental health, addictions

The province increased its funding for mental health and addictions by $9.5 million in the 2022-23 budget. It is directing $403 million to mental health and $67 million to addictions.

Of the new money, $8 million will fund initiatives like "counselling and treatments for Saskatchewan people, reduce harms associated with substance use and advance proactive prevention measures, particularly for youth," and $1.5 million is dedicated to "support the continued implementation of initiatives first committed to in 2021-22." 

The total health budget for 2022-23 is $6.44 billion. 

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said he is concerned the budget falls short of what's needed as his city grapples with growing addictions, mental health and poverty crises. 

"It's affecting families, it's affecting neighbourhoods. It's affecting many, many people in our community," he said. "To see an $8 million investment on a $6.8 billion budget, given the level of crisis that we're seeing in mental health and addictions, I was hoping to see a bolder move there."

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