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This room at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre will be part of a safe injection site. [Photo © Shauna McGinn]

The Oasis program is the harm reduction program at Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. [Photo © Shauna McGinn]

For Rob Boyd, program director for the Oasis program at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, their supervised injection site has been a long time coming.

Boyd and his colleagues have been working since 2012 to open a safe injection site – collecting data, holding community consultations, and seeking approval from the police, municipality, and governing bodies for nurses and community safety, among other steps. Their efforts culminated in July, when they were granted an exemption from Health Canada, meaning its workers are exempt from laws surrounding possession of illegal drugs. The site, which will be located at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre on Rideau Street, is expected to open later this year.

Supervised Injection Sites in Ottawa

In the meantime, there are sites in the city currently operating in the interim: an site run by Ottawa Public Health at a facility on Clarence Street, and a pop-up site run by Overdose Prevention Ottawa in Raphael Brunet Park. There is also a trailer site run by Shepherds of Good Hope that has recently applied for exemption.

The Sandy Hill site is currently projected to open sometime between late November and early December. Sandy Hill staff are currently focused on renovating the centre to accommodate a safe injection site, and they’ve been working with the Ministry of Health to obtain funding and get approval to have the work done. The centre is also looking for more staff members to work at the site when it opens.

Supervised Injection Sites in Canada

Staff have also been working at the OPH interim site, and have been helping out at the Shepherds of Good Hope trailer site.

“The collaboration is really becoming key,” Boyd said about staff members working with other harm reduction programs around the city.

The Process

Boyd had originally envisioned a summer opening date. That date had been pushed to October, and now sits closer to December. Part of that has to do with the length of time it takes to get parts of the process done, he said.

“I think that the system and the bureaucracy is actually moving as quickly as it can,” Boyd said. “This is what it means to follow the rules.”

“It takes time to get things done,” he added. “That’s where we’re at.”

But now, with opening still some time away, Boyd just wants the site to be operational and ready to help those who need it.

“It’s so frustrating to be this close and not offering services on site,” he said.

Community Response

According to Boyd, there has been a generally positive community response to seeing a supervised injection site at the centre.

The centre was required to hold community consultations, where local neighbourhood residents were able to tour the site and ask questions to Boyd and his colleagues.

“I think there was a lot of positive feelings after this,” he added.

Boyd noted the fact that members of the public have not been unanimous in their support, saying he received emails opposing the project after the federal government approved the site. However, he hopes those in opposition will “come around to understanding the logic” behind the supervised injection site, and why he feels they need one.

Mathieu Fleury is the Rideau-Vanier councillor and says safe injection sites are a great entry into treatment – Photo: Shauna McGinn

Mathieu Fleury is the city councillor for the Rideau-Vanier ward, and is a supporter of supervised injection sites.

“Drug use is not a new issue in my area,” he said. “Not having appropriate responses for drug treatment and support only creates that vicious cycle of drug use and theft and so on, and doesn’t really get to a different outcome.”

Like Boyd, Fleury notes that he has received feedback from constituents against the site.

“We’ve heard some feedback of concern, and people asking why we approved it,” he said. “I think their concern is this idea that in and around the area that drug use will increase.”

However, he calls the response “overwhelmingly” positive, noting a shift in public opinion and cites the lack of opposition to the opening of Ottawa Public Health’s interim site.

One of the conditions that came with Ottawa Public Health approval for the site was the idea that all community health centres across the city should have similar programs in place, according to Fleury.

“The idea of a supervised injection service is to bring folks inside, to start having those conversations, and [it’s] really a good entry point into treatment,” he said.

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