Overdose prevention group gets Christmas gift: a new, indoor facility

“It’s definitely more difficult with freezing cold hands to give someone Narcan and the proper health services that they need,” says harm reduction leader Sarah Blyth. She's hopeful an indoor facility will help her group save more lives as the overdose crisis drags on.

Overdose Prevention Society estimates they've had 100,000 visits and prevented 300 ODs in first year

Sarah Blyth with the Overdose Prevention society in the group's trailer, which has been one of several temporary shelters the group has operated out of. The group now has an indoor location, which she says will make a difference in the winter. (Tristan Le Rudulier)

A volunteer group that encourages people who use drugs to figuratively come in from the cold is now literally coming in from the cold — just in time for winter.

The Overdose Prevention Society is getting a permanent indoor space after working out of tents and trailers for its first year.

The society operates a harm-reduction site for people who use drugs. In their first year, they estimate they have seen 100,000 visits and prevented almost 300 overdoses, but cold weather can make things tricky.

"It's definitely more difficult with freezing cold hands to give someone Narcan and the proper health services that they need," organizer Sarah Blyth told The Early Edition host Rick Cluff. "We wanted to be in before Christmas and we wanted to be in before it got snowy.

"It just is going to make everyone's lives a lot easier. It's going to make it so we can help save people's lives not … in miserable conditions."

Listen to the full interview:

“It’s definitely more difficult with freezing cold hands to give someone Narcan and the proper health services that they need,” says harm reduction leader Sarah Blyth. She's hopeful an indoor facility will help her group save more lives. 6:48

Blyth says the new location, on the zero block of East Hastings Street, is a building owned by B.C. Housing.

Working with BC Housing, the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health, Blyth said they've put together a plan for the new facility.

It will be furnished with seating and tables through a donation from the Central City Foundation and members of the public, Blyth said, and her group will also work to connect people using drugs with housing, counselling and health services resources.

The existing site — which is right next door to the indoor facility — will remain open, Blyth said. That will allow people to smoke drugs under supervision which can't be done indoors.

Beyond improving safety for drug users, Blyth hopes the new facility will help give them hope at Christmas time.

"Christmas can be a difficult time for most people, but it can be more difficult for people who are living in an alley," she said. "So we want to make sure we're there for people all through the season."

Blyth says she will pick up the keys to the new Overdose Prevention Society location Monday and open its doors Tuesday.

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition