A Ryerson business student is starting a volunteer sharps pickup group, in response to discarded harm reduction materials found around campus.
Annabelle Bernard said she started this initiative when she overheard a Ryerson graduate say she felt unsafe on campus, after the supervised injection site opened at the corner of Dundas and Victoria streets in November 2017. Discarded harm reduction materials, such as syringes, made her uncomfortable.
“What really became clear to me was that she agreed with the principle of safe injection sites,” said Bernard. “But it was the harm reduction materials that [made her] feel uncomfortable. Seeing syringes [made] it feel like no one was doing anything.”
Before becoming a student in the finance for social innovation program at TRSM, Bernard had been working for two years as a full-time frontline harm reduction worker. She also works at Sistering, on Bloor Street West, a women’s drop-in centre.
Despite the alumna’s concerns, Bernard said the safe injection site at Dundas and Victoria streets is not misplaced. A Toronto Public Health report from last summer found that, since August 2017, the top three neighbourhoods that make calls to paramedic services for suspected opioid overdoses are the Church-Yonge Corridor, Moss Park and the Bay Street Corridor. In total, the three neighbourhoods made 853 calls for suspected opioid overdose to the Toronto Paramedic Services.
“Five out of the 15 top overdose hotspots in Toronto as a whole are near Ryerson campus,” Bernard said. “Just because there’s a school there doesn’t mean people should die.”
Bernard pointed out that gentrification may also be making substance abuse a more visible issue. “You wouldn’t see the drug use as obvious because it’s happening inside, but now I think it’s pushed to outside,” Bernard said.
For now, Bernard hopes to have students meet once a week for a harm reduction skills instruction. She said that if she can maintain the group’s presence every Thursday, more interest will build around it.
“I’m not looking for people to come every single week, I’m looking to have as many people engaged with it as I can,” she said.
During her pilot run last week, she did not find any syringes near campus but did find a few pipes.
“I wasn’t expecting to find a lot but you know, it only takes one pipe for someone to be like, ‘Our campus is going to hell,’” Bernard said.
For more information on how to get involved, email Bernard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With files from Declan Keogh