Encampment overdose highlights growing substance use challenges in Regina

After 33 days, the tent encampment in front of City Hall has seen its first death.

According to the Regina Police Service, one woman died from an apparent drug overdose Wednesday morning.

Mayor Sandra Masters issued her condolences to the family and loved ones of the individual who tragically lost her life.

“Every decision we make, every partnership we facilitate, every action the city takes in response to the encampment has been focused on one goal. To prevent the loss of life, and this sadly occurred.”

Masters said the death highlights an all-too-familiar substance use disorder problem in the city.

“Addiction is a deep and complex problem in our city and in municipalities across Canada, and that requires complex answers and solutions to come forward in collaboration with other levels of government who handle health, mental health and addictions in our communities.”

From January to June, data from the Regina Police Service shows that 72 people have died due to apparent overdoses in the city through the first six months of 2023, with an additional 1,304 incidents.

“Whatever we’re doing isn’t working,” Masters said. “We continue to work with all levels of government, everything relating to addiction issues, health issues, and criminal issues for the supply the dealing of these drugs.”

She said substance use disorder also makes it hard to house some individuals.

“We know that there’s no clear, simple, one size fits all solution to solving the challenges posed by it, but we continue to try,” the Mayor said. “The notion that we can put folks with deeply problematic substance use disorder into a home by themselves is simply not realistic; it’s not safe.

Masters said another issue is that some people have declined services.

“Part of the difficulty in this situation is the Ministry of Social Services is present, but there’s been what amounts to a decline in service, so the question now is, what to do with folks who don’t want assistance with shelter, and that is essentially what we’re facing.”

Canadian courts have ruled that cities cannot clear homeless encampments without adequate shelter space available.

As for the overdose, Masters said tragically, it wasn’t a matter of if but a matter of when someone from the encampment would die of an overdose.

Alyssa Johnson, with the Rally Around Homelessness, agreed with the Mayor.

“What happened was really unfortunate, but you couldn’t say unexpected. Nobody who knows the data knows what the real number is, could say that this was unexpected.”

Johnson believes the encampment in front of city hall is still safe.

“I think it’s clear that the impact has favoured safer than an environment where there’s no support,” she said. “We have ten-plus overdoses a month in the city; I think the fact those volunteers made it more than a month it’s a testament to how much they care even when the system isn’t helping them, and everything is seemingly working against everything that they’re trying to do.

Masters said the city has been working closely with the Ministry of Social Services and community-based organizations to connect individuals with services.

She said the city would continue providing safety and wellness checks through Regina Fire and Protective Services and the Regina Police Service.

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