At Melbourne’s first-ever safe-injecting room, people who come here to use heroin sometimes accidentally drop their stash into the large bin that sits against the wall.

When that happens, staff will help the person – strung out and now a little stressed – fish their drugs out of the rubbish. On their way out, they might have a blood test, their first dental check-up in years, or just a hot cup of Milo.

“We enable people to inject in the centre because that’s what they do,” the medical director, Nico Clark, tells Guardian Australia during a recent visit to the North Richmond Community Health Centre. “The majority are dependent on their substances. The purpose is not to be a place that facilitates injection per se, the purpose is to keep people alive.”

There have been 8,000 visits and 140 people had been treated for potentially life-threatening overdoses, according to recent figures. “This was [set up] to save lives, every indication is this facility is saving lives,” the mental health minister, Martin Foley, said as he revealed the statistics late last month.

But the centre’s location on Lennox Street, about 350 metres from the Vietnamese eateries of Victoria Street, and next door to Richmond West primary school, remains a point of contention. The Coalition opposition announced in April it would scrap the trial if it wins the election.