The executive director of AIDS Saskatoon says the group is continuing with its plans to open a safe place for people to consume drugs. The provincial budget released Monday did not include a hoped-for $1.3 million for the planned facility, which would be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
AIDS Saskatoon found out that the project would not be funded in March, and started looking at its options then. While AIDS Saskatoon's Jason Mercredi said the facility would operate on a reduced basis, he said the project was too important to sit idle.
"I'm looking at our security camera right now and I'm watching people inject drugs in the alley behind the building," he said Tuesday. "They need a place to go that can connect them with health services and we know that our staff are very skilled in doing that."
Mercredi said the supervised consumption site would help address the province's high rates of HIV transmission, as well as its high rate of overdoses. "These [sites] are known tools to reduce HIV infections," he said.
"People can't leave the site with injection drug equipment. They have to dispose of it before they leave." Saskatchewan has traditionally led the country in HIV infection rates, something AIDS Saskatoon wants to combat.
According to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, there were 47 newly detected cases of HIV across the province in the first three months of the year, a slight decline from 2019.
Speaking to CBC Radio's The Morning Edition, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said mental health and addictions treatment was a priority in the budget, and took up 7.5 per cent of health spending.
"There is a lot of pressures and priorities in mental health and addictions," she said.
"This is the funding that was chosen."
Mercredi said more information on funding and the site's future would come out next month. The site's drop-in centre has already opened and is serving people in the community. The supervised consumption room is designed to handle about 250 people a day once it's up and running.
Mercredi said AIDS Saskatoon — a non-profit that provides support, advocacy and outreach services for people living with, or affected by, HIV/AIDS — received provincial funding for two new case managers in the budget, to help the group manage their caseloads. The group also receives money for a family support program that is designed to provide aid to families and avoid child apprehension by social services.
Ultimately, Mercredi said something needs to be done.
"The status quo just isn't cutting it anymore," he said. "We exist to be proactive and innovative in addressing community needs, and that's what this consumption site is intended to do."
Published on: June 16, 2020