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Leslieville residents hold town hall on future of safe-consumption site | CBC News


Safety around a safe-consumption drug site was the focus of a contentious community meeting in Leslieville Wednesday night.

Some community members say violence and drug use are on the rise in their neighbourhood.

“These concerns go back to 2018, a year after this safe-injection site opened,” one man said outside of the meeting. “There are 100 children who live on [nearby] Heward Avenue.”

“We came here to support everyone,” another man interrupted, booing.

Earlier this month, Karolina Huebner-Makurat, affectionately known as Karoline by family and friends, was shot and killed across the street from the South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC). The health centre provides services for mental health and addictions and offers a safe-consumption site.

Karolina Huebner-Makurat 1
Karolina Huebner-Makurat, a 44-year-old mother of 2, died after she was struck by a stray bullet. (Submitted by Adrian Makurat)

The 44-year-old mother of two was caught in the crossfire of a fight between three men. Toronto police have arrested one suspect, but two remain outstanding. They have not confirmed a link between the health centre and the shooting.

“We’ve been brushed off as a community”

Andrea Nickel
Leslieville resident Andrea Nickel says the neighbourhood has seen an uptick in drug use and violence over the past few years. (CBC)

Andrea Nickel and Jeri Brown helped organize the town hall.

Nickel has lived in the neighbourhood for more than a decade and has been engaging with the health centre for a few years. She says she’s seen a change in the community brewing.

“I think the challenge that we are seeing is an escalation of activity and illegal activity in and around the centre,” she said. “What we are really asking is for safety and security. It’s really about wanting to ensure that our kids can walk by there on their way to school.”

Residents presented community-gathered data to the health centre. The data represents just over a month and a half of submitted reports.

It included over 350 incidents, most of which showed visible drug use, drug paraphernalia on the ground, aggressive language and fighting, and drug selling.

Security guards stand outside the South Riverdale Community Health Centre. (CBC)

Since Huebner-Makurat’s death, the health centre has hired a security company to support the people using its services. Community members say that is something they’ve been asking for for months.

Brown says most people in the community don’t want to shut the safe-consumption site down. 

“We’d like to see [the South Riverdale Community Health Centre] properly, functionally run this program,” she said. “We are very supportive of this consumption and treatment service. We know that there are people in our community who rely on it. We know it saves lives.”

Health centre a provincial responsibility

In a statement on its website, the SRCHC’s CEO said the city is going through a deepening mental-health crisis along with compounding poverty and homelessness.

“Over the last several months we have all witnessed the increased volatility and behaviour issues in our community,” said Jason Altenberg, CEO of the South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

“We also know that everyone should feel safe in their neighbourhood and that no one should die on our streets.”

Politicians of all three levels of government were invited to Wednesday’s meeting.

Councillor for Toronto-Danforth, Paula Fletcher, said operating the safe-consumption site is a provincial responsibility.

For its part, Toronto Public Health (TPH) performs annual inspections to ensure facilities are following provincial public health standards.

In its last inspection dated May 11, 2023, TPH found no infractions with the site.

Mary Ouimette works at the harm reduction centre and understands both sides of the issue.

“I’m not taking either side here,” she said. “I [understand] when they walk by and people do have a crack pipe or whatever out.

“But this is where you get it so you don’t get Hepatitis C or AIDS.”

Liz Janzen agrees. She supports the safe-consumption site, but admits its future relies on government funding.

“To have a community safety team that would help de-escalate situations would help with the reality of sometimes needing to pick up needles,” she said. “Recently I think they need more support to do that.”

Some members of the community said the town hall didn’t do enough to answer the burning questions, and hope a dialogue will remain open.

“I came here to see the community unified,” said Peter Bachman, a harm reduction worker at another safe consumption site. “I don’t know if that actually happened.”


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