Ottawa supervised injection trailer squeezed by extreme cold and fire damage

The supervised injection trailer next to Shepherds of Good Hope is struggling to serve clients in a cramped space as extreme cold sets in and they've lost some of the space used for clients due to a recent fire.

December fire damaged part of Shepherds of Good Hope used for drug program

Anne Marie Hopkins, supervisor for the peer outreach program at Inner City Health, said the cold weather and tight space due to recent fire damage are challenges for monitoring clients in the supervised injection trailer. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The supervised injection service that operates in a trailer next to the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter is struggling to meet client demand due to the extreme cold and a loss of space because of recent fire damage at the shelter.

The 40-foot construction trailer with fogged up windows and a narrow entrance is the only supervised injection site in Ottawa that operates overnight.

It has far exceeded the expected flow of 50 clients a day, according to Anne Marie Hopkins, supervisor of the peer outreach program at Ottawa Inner City Health, which operates the supervised-injection service.

"With three staff working and even with a handful of clients, it's tight in there," Hopkins said. "We're putting through 150 [to] 170 people a day in that small trailer so we have to move people along, but it's really hard when it's so cold out. They're freezing."

Hopkins said the core mission of the trailer is medical care — monitoring drug use to prevent and treat opioid overdoses as they occur. Shepherds of Good Hope, which has a partner drug program, handles shelter for people before and after drug use in the trailer, she said.

Fire damage at shelter 

Targeted Engagement and Diversion (TED), the space for the drug program at Shepherds, was damaged in a fire before Christmas, said Hopkins. People would be sent there to be monitored in case of an overdose that happened more than an hour after they used.

"Someone would come in, they would use drugs and we would supervise them and then we would move them along to the TED program in Shepherds. But we don't really have that option right now, so it's been really challenging to provide proper care to our clients," Hopkins said.

Steve MacIntosh, a senior assistant manager at Shepherds of Good Hope, said shelter staff have been working to make due.

"There's been an issue with space, but that's what Shepherds does best," he said.

Steve MacIntosh, senior assistant manager at Shepherds of Good Hope, says shelter staff have done a good job of coping with a loss of space due to a fire that happened before Christmas. (Toni Choueiri/CBC)

MacIntosh said mats have been rolled out in the place of mattresses and clients have been taken to the Ottawa Mission, Salvation Army and women moved to the community space across from the men's shelter after they use drugs in the trailer.

"We just basically deal with what we're given. If people need a warm, safe place then we do everything we can to ensure that," MacIntosh said.

Some fixes in the works

Hopkins said there has been a slight spike in the number of overdoses related to opioids since Dec. 29 and they encourage people to come to the trailer, where they'll have a safe space.

"We want people to be safe. We want them to be using with us if they're going to use so that we can handle the overdoses and hopefully we don't have any deaths this weekend," she said.

Shelter staff have helped fix a heating issue in the trailer that surfaced during the last cold snap, Hopkins said. One half of the shelter remained freezing while the other was being warmed up.

The first floor is expected to be back in full operation by Saturday afternoon, a spokesperson said Friday.

Both MacIntosh and Hopkins are encouraging donations of socks, warm clothes and handwarmers, which are always in needed during extreme cold situations.