Despite continued financial support from businesses, and even though Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR) is launching a new clothing line to raise funds, executive director Jason Mercredi says provincial funding is the only way to make the supervised consumption site sustainable.
“(The government) made a mistake in not funding us,” he told Global News.
“I think they need to rectify that mistake.”
It’s a sombre pronouncement for the launch of a new fundraising campaign. On Thursday, PHR will begin selling its new clothing line, a collection of tank tops, T-shirts and hats decorated with 1980s- and 1990s-style graphics designed by local artists.
PHR unveiled the new designs in a retro-themed commercial posted to Twitter, which begins with the words “Attention: Provincial Government responding to the overdose crisis like it’s the late 80’s early 90’s?”
Mercredi said the theme is a criticism.
“It’s all based on the Government of Saskatchewan’s response to the overdose crisis and how they’re funding it. It’s really an outdated response,” he said.
The provincial government denied Mercredi’s request for more funding a second time when it unveiled the 2021-2022 budget earlier this month.
Since then, businesses have stepped in to support PHR. Mercredi said that as of Monday morning, 45 had promised to give some of their income or have already made a donation. They include local bars and restaurants, a pole-dancing studio, a dog groomer, a flower shop, a bath bomb maker and an outdoors sporting good store, among others.
Living Skies Cannabis owner Cierra Sieben-Shuback gave $2,000.
“One of our main goals is to try to support our community as much as we can and to try to make our community a better place,” she said.
“And we strongly feel that Prairie Harm Reduction is doing that.”
Realtor Jon Aschenbrener is giving five per cent of his sales from participating clients.
“If Prairie Harm Reduction is thriving and surviving, that means dozens, if not hundreds, of people out there … are living a better life.”
Even Dr. Susan Shaw, Saskatchewan Health Authority’s chief medical officer, is taking part. She tweeted a photo on Sunday of a donut from Darkside Donuts, another business taking part in the fundraising efforts, and said: “Shouldn’t have to raise money for harm reduction but right now we do.”
Mercredi said the additional funding would have gone to hiring new staff, including paramedics, so PHR could operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help more people.
Mercredi said he’ll add up the total at the end of the month and see what is possible.
He said the outpouring of support is humbling.
“It tells us that this is now not an ‘us versus them’ issue or a ‘those people’ issue. This is is a ‘we’ issue. And so I think Saskatchewan and Saskatoon really care about this.
But he said life-saving medical treatment shouldn’t depend on T-shirt sales to operate.
He added that a sustainable solution requires government funding.
When asked about why the government wasn’t funding PHR on budget day, mental health and addictions minister Everett Hindley said the province chose to focus on other treatment methods, like boosting the number of naloxone kits and treatment beds.
Mercredi said that isn’t enough.
“We have to look at the record for how many people are dying. That’s the only measure … and we’re failing as a province.”
Last year was the deadliest for overdoses on record in Saskatchewan history. The Saskatchewan Coroners Service states 336 people died from confirmed or suspected overdoses, and that 103 have died so far in 2021.
“(The government) could rectify this situation very easily. They’re choosing not to right now,” he said.
“As a result, people are dying and we’re left kind of picking up the pieces in the community.”
Global News asked the government if it would reconsider and fund Prairie Harm Reduction.
No one responded by deadline.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.