Pubdate: Thu, 02 Nov 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Emily Mathieu
Page: GT6


Government will work with harm-reduction workers operating pop-up

Ontario is dispatching its Emergency Medical Assistance Team to set up
a tent in Moss Park to provide a heated and insulated space for safe

"This is an overdose crisis. People are dying and, today, Minister
Eric Hoskins and the Ontario government have stepped up," Councillor
Joe Cressy said Wednesday night. The tent will be set up Thursday and
replace a temporary site run by the Toronto Overdose Prevention
Society (TOPS). The ministry will work with TOPS staff, Cressy said.

Earlier in the day, harm-reduction workers had gathered for a press
conference in Moss Park to draw attention to the need for warm and
safe space for the people they serve and how red tape in a time of
crisis is endangering lives.

"We are in a public health emergency," harm-reduction worker Zoe Dodd
said. "We are asking the province and the federal government and the
city to ignore legal exemptions and let rooms open to save lives
across the province."

The tent opened in August and was set up and taken down each day by
TOPS members. Staffed by off-the-clock nurses and volunteers, the tent
supervised 1,976 injections and stopped or reversed 85 drug overdoses,
according to staff.

The organizers had been speaking with the city and multi-service
agency Fred Victor about moving their services into the agency's
basement while they waited for an exemption from the federal
government that would allow them to operate legally.

That move would not be possible, they had been told, without federal
approval. With winter approaching, the tent would not be sufficient
shelter for them to provide life-saving work, they said. In the
interim, they said they wanted city support to open a trailer in Moss
Park and the province to declare a state of emergency.

Fred Victor's executive director, Mark Aston, said the agency is
deeply supportive of the work being done in the park, but after
lengthy in-house discussions, they determined they need the exemption
before they can provide a space for this service.

Mayor John Tory and Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Eric
Hoskins wrote a joint letter to federal Health Minister Ginette
Petitpas Taylor on Tuesday requesting the application be approved
immediately. "Under the circumstances and the urgency of this local
situation, we ask that you provide a short-term or conditional
exemption to enable the service to open as soon as possible," they

Petitpas Taylor told the Star Wednesday that once the application
arrives she has instructed her staff to move as quickly as possible,
but could not provide a timeline. "We do know it is time-sensitive. We
recognize that winter is fast approaching," she said.

On Monday, the city's public health committee heard that 70 people
have died as a result of homelessness in Toronto this year.

Leon "Pops" Alward, 46, told the Star he overdosed at a friend's place
in October and was revived using Naloxone, a medication that blocks or
reverses opioid overdoses. People are relying on each other for harm
reduction and without low-barrier sites like the tent, he said, deaths
are guaranteed to rise.

Before the province announced it would set up a site in Moss Park,
Councillor Cressy had said the city had an "ethical obligation" to
address the needs of a vulnerable population.

"If the federal government is not willing to expedite the exemption or
willing to change the law I believe the city and the province should
ignore them," he said.

- - With files from David Rider
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