Location found for supervised injection site, now awaiting ministry approval

After weeks of intense searching, the group spearheading an effort to create a temporary supervised injection site in Hamilton has finally found a prospective location — now it just needs provincial approval.
The Shelter Health Network has received provincial approval for a new temporary supervised injection site in downtown Hamilton. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

After weeks of intense searching, the group spearheading an effort to create a temporary supervised injection site in Hamilton has finally found a prospective location — now it just needs provincial approval.

The Shelter Health Network has partnered with Hamilton Urban Core CHC to host a site where people can more safely inject drugs at the inner city health centre's 71 Rebecca St. location, says lead physician Dr. Jill Wiwcharuk.

But it's not a done deal just yet. The group is now working on resubmitting its application to the province so it can secure funding before the writ drops for the provincial election on Wednesday, which could bring the whole process to a screeching halt.

"It's looking very good. The ministry has been extremely supportive," Wiwcharuk said. "They know how hard we've been working and how high the need is."

The rate of opiod-related deaths in Hamilton has climbed steadily in recent years. Between January and October 2017 there were 70 confirmed and five probable deaths linked to the drugs, compared to 41 during the same period the year before.

That makes the need for a supervised injection site all the more apparent, Wiwcharuk told CBC News.

"I'm seeing my patients … I'm watching them die. I'm seeing them overdose and have to revive them right outside my clinic door."

This is a public health crisis we're dealing with here.- Dr. Jill Wiwcharuk

But while the need is high, finding a place to put a location like this hasn't been easy. An application was sent to the province weeks ago to place a temporary injection site trailer in a municipal parking lot at 76 John St. N., but it was held up because of building permit and zoning requirements.

"I was going to walk in clinics, medical clinics, storefronts … we just got no after no after no," Wiwcharuk said.

All this is happening on a time crunch before election season hits. Once campaigning begins in earnest, funding decisions like this are usually put off until after the election.

And depending on the outcome, those decisions could change. PC leader Doug Ford said last month he is "dead against" supervised injection sites and believes the focus should be on drug rehabilitation instead.

Overdoses and deaths continue to mount in Hamilton. (CBC)

Social agencies have said they are worried Hamilton is "lagging behind" in the creation of harm reduction sites.

Two new temporary overdose prevention sites opened their doors to Toronto drug users in recent weeks, and Toronto's first sanctioned, permanent supervised injection site officially opened its doors last November.

Wesley Urban Ministries is still attempting to find a permanent location, and the city is currently in talks with local hospitals about locating supervised injection sites at one of their locations.

If the funding comes through from the province for the temporary location, it would set them up for six months with the possibility of an extension, Wiwcharuk said.

The location would include an area for three people at a time to inject "pre-obtained" drugs under the watch of a medical professional. It would also include a waiting room, a bathroom and a "chill out space," where people can spend some time after they inject to make sure they're okay.

Wiwcharuk says she hopes to know for sure if the funding is approved by Wednesday.

"This is a public health crisis we're dealing with here."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.