Moss Park overdose prevention site is moving indoors in June

After nine months outdoors, the Moss Park overdose prevention site is getting a home indoors next month, in addition to new provincial funding.

The unsanctioned, volunteer-run site began operating in August 2017

The Moss Park overdose prevention site began as a tent in the park. It will soon be getting a home indoors. (Carly Thomas/CBC)

After nine months outdoors, the Moss Park overdose prevention site (OPS) is getting a home indoors next month, in addition to new provincial funding.

"When we said we wouldn't abandon the people of Moss Park, we meant it," organizer Zoe Dodd said Friday. 

"We have supervised thousands of injections and reversed 212 overdoses and who knows how many more we've prevented. We've probably had upwards of 30,000 visits."

The site began in August of last year as an unsanctioned, volunteer-run tent after a spike in overdose deaths last summer. Community advocates and volunteers established the makeshift  site in defiance of the law, risking arrest. 

"When we first went into the park with the tents, we didn't know what to expect," Dodd said. 

"We didn't even think that we would be allowed to be in the park and we negotiated that day and stayed. I think most of us thought it would be a weekend, but we didn't think ... it would continue for nine months."

As winter set in, the volunteers continued their work and the site was given a heated tent by the provincial government and then a 40-foot trailer by the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario. 

The additional provincial funding will allow the organization to hire several staff members, but will have to re-apply every six months for the money to continue. 

"It feels good that we will be able to continue with [our] work without the fear of whether we're going to close down or whether we can staff it," Dodd said. 

The OPS will continue to operate in the park before it moves to a nearby building.

A small memorial sits near the overdose prevention site in Moss Park. (Grant Linton/CBC)

The work of Dodd and other advocates has led the province to set up an application process for overdose prevention sites, which allows health care or community-based organizations to set up similar operations.

The federal government has also established a legal framework in which overdose prevention sites can operate, providing exemptions to allow for illegal drugs to be used on-site. 

While Dodd says these are steps forward, she also warns that more action and resources are needed to tackle the city's opioid crisis — including greater funding and year-long exemptions for overdose prevention sites, changes to the legal framework around drug use, and more up-to-date and readily available data on the number of overdoses and deaths. 

"At this point, we sit at lots of tables where we hear it's a journey," Dodd said. "It's not a journey, it's a public health emergency that can have an end and we're all committed to finding that end."

With the provincial election around the corner, Dodd also notes the future of prevention sites like hers may be determined by its results.

Ontario's Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford has already come out "dead against" supervised injection sites and says the focus should be on rehabilitation of addicts instead.