The diocese’s College of Bishops and four clergy have written to Minister of Health Christine Elliott, expressing their concern over the provincial government’s decision to reduce and limit the number of overdose prevention sites in Ontario.
In the April 2 letter, the bishops and clergy say the opioid overdose crisis in the province is “the major public health issue of our time” and is a health emergency that is costing many lives. More than 1,250 people died of opioid overdoses in Ontario in 2017.
The letter was sent by bishops Andrew Asbil, Peter Fenty, Riscylla Shaw, Kevin Robertson, Jenny Andison, the Rev. Alison Falby of All Saints Church-Community Centre, the Rev. Maggie Helwig of St. Stephen in-the-Fields, Toronto, the Ven. Stephen Vail, archdeacon of Trent-Durham, and the Rev. Leigh Kern, the diocese’s coordinator of Indigenous ministries and reconciliation animator.
The letter specifically asks that the overdose prevention sites at St. Stephen’s Community House and Street Health in downtown Toronto be given licenses and funding by the government to remain open. The sites are located near All Saints Church-Community Centre and St. Stephen-in-the-Fields and have close ties to those churches.
“They are both sites which are well-run, locally appropriate, and have strong community support, and a demonstrated record of saving lives,” write the bishops and clergy. “Because they are smaller sites, based in multi-service agencies, they are particularly able to focus on building relationships, connecting people to medical care and counselling, and helping them to build healthier, safer lives, more integrated into the local community.” The letter also asks the government to grant licensing and funding to the site at The Works, one of the busiest sites in the city.
The letter states that the diocese would be willing to play a role in a “coordinated public health strategy” to address the issue. “Can we be part of bringing together community voices and helping this discussion to move forward in a constructive way?”
The letter is just one of the ways that bishops, clergy and laity in the diocese have been responding to the government’s announcement on March 29 to close some sites and limit the number of them in the province. Bishop Robertson attended a press conference at Toronto City Hall on April 1 along with clergy and laity to show support for the safe injection sites slated for closure.