Pop-up injection site organizers say they'll keep on going

Mayor Jim Watson is more concerned about votes and public reaction than drug-use management in his criticism of a pop-up supervised injection site in a Lowertown park, says one of the site’s organizers.

“Well, he’s a politician; what can I say?” said Rick Sproule, who’s with Overdose Prevention Ottawa.

“He’s concerned about votes, that’s what he’s concerned about. He’s not a health-care professional, he has no expertise in the field whatsoever.”

On Tuesday, Watson said that injection-site organizers, while well intentioned, weren’t being fair to the community and had “taken over” the park.

Watson wouldn’t say if the city would close down the site, open since Friday afternoon in Raphael Brunet Park, at the intersection of St. Patrick and Cumberland streets.

As of Tuesday night, it has been used 88 times, according to organizers, who said there have been no overdoses so far.

David Gibson, the executive director of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, which is set to open a government-approved site, had initially expressed concerns over the unsanctioned injection tent.

The organization later offered up its parking lot to the pop-up and Watson has said the two groups should collaborate.

“We’re kind of frustrated that (Sandy Hill is) not doing what we’ve done, taking the courage to just go ahead and do it. We’ve got our necks out on the line. They’re doing it the law-and-order way, well, OK, but both approaches need to be focused on,” Sproule said, adding they’re considering the collaboration.

Mélanie Stafford, who’s co-ordinating naloxone and liaising with the community, said the group received about 300 naloxone kits (which can help arrest an opioid overdose) after announcing plans for the site last Thursday. She estimates that 150 kits have been distributed so far, and said the pop-up has been working out logistics, from cigarette butt cans to lighting to storage and bathrooms.

“We’re organizing from a place of grief. And we hold each other, we hold each other’s hands,” Stafford said. “The grief feels insurmountable, everyone feels surrounded by death. It’s a very rough time.”

Rob Boyd, the director of the Oasis program at the health centre, visited the pop-up on Tuesday night, and is impressed with the operation, and the number of people it has helped.

“If I had those numbers in the first days I was open, I would be thrilled,” Boyd said. “I think they have done a remarkable job putting this together in short order.”

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, meanwhile, is considering opening an interim supervised injection site, at least until its full operation is up and running.

Boyd said he spoke with Health Canada on Wednesday about the possibility. It would be a stopgap until the full site, which was granted an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act by the federal government in July, is open, expected some time in the fall.

It comes down to where the health centre believes its energy should be right now.

Switching focus to creating an interim operation, and finding room for it, would slow down efforts to establish the full facility in the Nelson Street building, Boyd said.

Even if the Sandy Hill health centre had its supervised injection facility running today, Boyd would consider the tent a complementary health service.

“We’ve never pretended we were going to be the only solution to this,” Boyd said.

Sproule said police have been monitoring the pop-up site in the park, and that concern remains the city will eventually shut them down.

“There’s going to be a lot of drug use downtown,” Sproule said. “We’re still going to do what we need to do for the drug users. This is our main focus. The politics of it all, that’s all extraneous. It’s not to do with saving lives.”

By Tyler Dawson
Source: Ottawa Citizen