Members of Toronto’s Willowdale neighbourhood have been voicing their concerns after the city approved a drug injection site in the heart of their community.

Community members are contesting a municipal housing initiative at 175 Cummer Ave that would see a drug injection facility for Toronto’s homeless population installed right next to a senior’s home and near several schools. 

This development is part of Toronto’s Modular Housing Initiative – approved by City Council as part of the city’s broader HousingTO 2020-2030 plan.

The initiative is meant to provide “deeply affordable” housing to Toronto’s homeless residents, providing them with services that the city claims will prevent its tenants from ending up back on the streets. The initiative has already built four of these modular buildings across the city.

The 3-storey, 64 unit apartment will provide its tenants with a drug injection site, “personal recovery” from substance use and mental health challenges, help with storage of medication, and eviction prevention, among other services.

“The facility is expected to have special services for its tenants, including assistance with substance use, fetal alcohol supports, withdrawal services, and harm reduction (e.g. safe injection / inhalation, needle supplies, naloxone distribution),” says the Bayview Cummer Neighbourhood Association.

Willowdale’s residents have expressed concern with the housing initiative and the adverse effects the apartment’s residents would have on the neighbouring senior’s home, community safety, and property values. 

In an information document assembled by the city, it is acknowledged that Willowdale’s residents have concerns regarding drug-related crimes, used needles being left on the property’s grounds, and the overall safety of school children and seniors. 

However, the city claims that they do not anticipate any increase in public safety issues, citing the experience that the property managers have in addressing community concerns.

This response did not satisfy many in the community, including the Bayview Cummer Neighbourhood Association who are challenging the development with the Ontario Land Tribunal.

In an early January decision, the tribunal ruled against Willowdale’s residents, arguing that the development is capable of co-existing in harmony with the surrounding community and the neighbouring senior’s home. 

While the City of Toronto claims that they do not anticipate an increase in public safety issues surrounding the apartment complex, True North has found that crime has increased in areas that have already completed their modular housing sites.

The 11 Macey Ave site was opened on December 19, 2020. According to the Toronto Police Service’s major crime indicators data, crime within a one-kilometre radius of the building has risen 15.4% from 2020-2023. 

Within a one-kilometre radius from the 321 Dovercourt Rd site opened on January 28, 2021, crime increased by 16.2% from 2020-2023. 

Similarly, at the 540 Cedarvale Ave site opened sometime in 2022, the community has seen a 20.7% increase in crime from 2021-2023.

Meanwhile, the 39 Dundalk Dr site opened sometime in 2023, has seen a 20.6% increase in crime from 2022-2023.

Jeff Yang, a long-time member of the Willowdale community and a nominee for the Conservative Party of Canada’s Willowdale nomination race told True North that so-called harm reduction is a failed policy and that the city ought to stop shelling out millions of dollars on drug injection sites.

“Harm reduction is a failed policy to address the drug issue that our cities are facing,” said Yang.

“Deaths from drugs in Ontario have doubled since 2016. These are not just numbers, but victims of a failed and reckless experiment. The city needs to stop pushing these harm reduction aka drug injection sites and the federal government also needs to stop spending over $21M per year in funding these drug injection sites.”

Yang urged the Ontario government to push for a treatment and rehabilitation model of drug recovery and warned that the opening of the 175 Cummer Ave site can lead to a senior getting hurt.

“The Ontario government will need to further push treatment and rehabilitation without the failed harm reduction. Disagree with me all you want, but the rising number of victims don’t lie. Many people, including the seniors, also have an issue with this because it’s being built next to a long term care facility and a large senior housing area. The last thing I want to see is someone drugged up and under the influence hurting a senior.”