A harm reduction advocate says a pop-up supervised injection site in Moss Park will continue to operate despite the opening of an interim facility by Toronto Public Health on Monday.

Following an inspection last week, Health Canada recently approved Toronto Public Health’s application to open a temporary supervised injection site at its Victoria Street building and the location officially opened on Monday.

The temporary site will operate as a stop-gap measure until construction is complete on three permanent facilities, located at the public health building on Victoria Street, the Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre, and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

Public health opted to set up the temporary site after harm reduction workers opened an unsanctioned pop-up supervised injection site in Moss Park earlier this month to deal with a recent spike in overdose incidents in Toronto.

Mayor John Tory previously said he assumed organizers of the Moss Park site would dismantle it when the interim public health site opened but Nick Boyce, a harm reduction advocate who was involved in setting up the Moss Park site, said they plan to continue to operate the pop-up.

“It services a particular neighbourhood and a particular community. It might not seem like a big distance for people to travel for most of us who have bus tokens and money and feet that we can use to walk. But the people we are working with are living in that neighbourhood. They have severe addiction, mental health issues, physical health issues. They are comfortable in their particular neighbourhood,” he said.

“They don’t want to necessarily come here or physically can’t come over here so that is an underserviced part of the city and that’s why we opened up there and we intend to continue supporting those people. We are starting to build relationships and trust with people. These are people that have been criminalized, are very fearful of the system.”

Boyce said about 12 to 25 people use to the pop-up every day and so far, five overdoses have been reversed either at the temporary facility or in the immediate area.

“Those are five people that would be dead today or would have ended up in the emergency department, costing the system thousands of dollars,” he said.

When asked whether the site was operating illegally, Boyce said they may be violating a city bylaw by erecting a tent in the park.

“We are not in possession of drugs, we are not dealing drugs. These are people that are using drugs in that park already. That’s why we went there,” he said. “We are trying to get them away from the playground, away from the swings, away from the baseball diamond into a tent where they can use safely and we can look after them.”

Police say no plans in place to shut down Moss Park pop-up

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said the police service has no immediate plans to shut down the Moss Park site.

“When it comes to the tent issue, if we get an injunction then we will act on it but if not, chances are we won’t be,” he said.

Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa discussed the pop-up site with reporters on Monday morning during the opening of the temporary Toronto Public Health supervised injection location.

“I think that when we look at the pop-up site and having spoken to some of the members of that community… I think what we are seeing is the response to a need and a concern,” she said.

“We actually share that concern about the situation that we are seeing and I’m concerned about overdoses and the impact that is has on our community, not only those who are directly impacted by those overdoses but their family, their friends, our community at large.”

De Villa also responded to criticism from Ward 7 Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti, who attended the temporary facility on Monday morning.

Despite the fact that a needle exchange program is already currently offered at the Toronto Public Health building, Mammoliti claimed that the area will be inundated with addicts and needles, having a detrimental impact on tourism in the area.

“Many of the businesses that you see here are going to be boarded up within a year or a year and a half once they see the ramifications of what this is going to take on,"  Mammoliti said.

De Villa and other experts say research on the subject suggests otherwise.

“Supervised injection services, they may be relatively new to us here in Toronto but there is much experience throughout Canada and throughout the world. So the research literature on the subject supports the benefit of supervised injection services as a harm reduction measure not only for drug users themselves but also as a method by which to minimize social harms,” she said.

“We also have the approval of Health Canada, we have the approval of city council with respect to establishing supervised injection services so I think we are on pretty solid ground.”

The temporary site, de Villa said, can accommodate three people at one time and offers a safe place for injecting drugs and disposing of needles. Medical staff will be on site to assess those who use the site and naloxone, an overdose antidote, will be readily available.

“There is an area for our clients to actually rest for a few moments and to be observed safely after using those drugs,” she said.

“It’s got privacy screens… so that our clients are afforded some degree of privacy.”

The temporary site will operate Monday to Saturday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. but when the permanent facility opens up at the Victoria Street building, de Villa said it will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.