OPO's Lowertown pop-up safe injection site breaks camp

The wind and rain threatened to bring down the pop-up supervised injection site slightly ahead of schedule.

The tents and canopy held up, though, until volunteers with Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO) formally closed down the site at Lowertown’s Raphael Brunet Park at about 9 p.m. Thursday.

Deteriorating weather and the opening of a sanctioned trailer site nearby, behind the Shepherds of Good Hope, convinced the operators of OPO to close down after nearly 80 days of operation. OPO says it received more than 3,500 visits between Aug. 25 and Nov. 9.

Volunteers, some of whom will be moving to a sanctioned site, experienced mixed feelings on the final night, even as the rain threatened to turn to wet flurries and staff admitted exhaustion.

“Huge emotions. Huge emotions,” said site supervisor Melanie Stafford. “It’s a tremendous loss for everyone involved. OPO is transitioning because there is a need for advocacy, and for a variety of things throughout the city, but the end of this type of service delivery is a huge loss.”

OPO’s chief concern is that the two official safe injection sites won’t include an inhalation program.

“Most of the people we work with use both (injection and inhalation),” Stafford said. “So, we’re setting them up to have no place else to go when we can’t set up here anymore.”

For this reason, OPO is leaving the patch of lawn off St. Patrick Street and heading for the halls of bureaucracy to advocate change.

“Health Canada has approved an inhalation site out of Lethbridge, so it’s possible,” Stafford said. “We just need to figure out how to make it happen in this city.”

As it was during much of the 11 weeks of operation, the OPO site was overflowing with guests and goodwill. Support from the community showed up in myriad forms.

“From the labour to the food to the juices, coffees — everything imaginable was donated,” Stafford said. “It’s been a really amazing community engagement experience where people have felt like they had something tangible to contribute for this opioid emergency.”

Volunteers were especially touched to receive blankets and clothing from the aunt of a young woman who had recently checked into a treatment program.

“She had to clean up her niece’s room and found all these things and came here and brought us all kinds of things,” Stafford said. “It was really healing for her.”

Other family members have cooked for the volunteers and guests. Family members of addicts understand the need for feeling valued and experiencing dignity.

At least four of the OPO volunteers at Raphael Brunet will move into the nearly trailer to continue the work.

Stafford, who already works full time in harm reduction, will return to her day job.

“I don’t need any more work,” Stafford said, laughing. “I can go deal with my nine piles of laundry.”

By Wayne Scanlan
Source: Ottawa Citizen