After a sustained advocacy campaign, Saskatoon’s safe consumption site has been denied funding for the second year in a row.
The provincial budget announced last week included $458 million allocated for mental health and addictions services. $2.6 million of that money will go towards addictions and harm reduction efforts; this included none for Prairie Harm Reduction.
Jason Mercredi, the executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR) said getting denied funding was surprising given the government’s own findings that harm reduction sites save money and more importantly, lives.
“Almost immediately the messages of support started coming in and now we have close to 30 businesses that are running fundraisers for us,” he said.
Tisha Paget is the owner of d’Lish by Tish Cafe, she helped raise $2,250 for PHR by selling soups with 100 per cent of the proceeds going to the safe consumption site.
She said her original plan was to do 50 liters of soup at $10 a liter, she exceeded that goal as many people called her and asked how they could donate. She filled 200 orders before she had to cap it off.
“The most vulnerable are seeming to get the short end of the stick all the time and with COVID even more so,” Paget said. “Add in the stigma of addictions and the lack of funding from the government it was just like a slap in the face.”
Paget said people are talking about addressing the overdose crisis in the province, but she said no one seems to be doing anything about it.
“The Prairie Harm Reduction site is actually one of the only places that reduces [overdoses],” she said. “For the folks that come in there, that’s sometimes the only point of contact they’ll have with services for help.”
Mercredi said funding from the government would have meant extending hours either 24/7 or until midnight for the safe consumption site as it currently only runs on Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“The biggest request we get right now is for services in the evenings but we weren’t able to implement any of those things,” he said.
Mercredi said he is hoping to get drug testing available within the next month or two, but that comes with a large additional cost. Every drug test is $15 and the harm reduction site sees 300 people a month, which equals $4,500 a month.
“Now we’re basically just fundraising 365 days of the year.”
He said the bare minimum funding goal that PHR has to reach is $75,000.
Prairie Harm Reduction has posted a request for a letter writing campaign to the Government of Saskatchewan on it’s social media pages. It calls for people to copy and paste an email message stating why the government should fund the harm reduction site, and gives the email addresses for Premier Scott Moe, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer, and Health Ministers Paul Merriman and Everett Hindley.
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Mercredi said it’s clear the government is listening to an “echo chamber” right now and they don’t understand how the lack of funding affects residents of Saskatchewan.
“We’re seeing a lot of people dying and they don’t seem to realize that it’s their responsibility to stop that from happening especially when they have the power to do so,” Mercredi said.
According to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service as of April 6 2021, there have been 103 deaths related to overdoses in the province since the beginning of the year.
“We can’t just wait for another year for another 400 plus people to die.”
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health did not immediately respond to request for comment.