The precursor to Ottawa's first permanent supervised safe injection site will open its doors to clients on Tuesday, Sept. 26. But it's not clear the nearby tent offering support to drug users will shut down.
The interim supervised drug injection site will be located at the Ottawa Public Health office on Clarence Street. For years, many in the medical community have pressed for a drug consumption site, citing growing rates of drug overdoses in the city.
The interim site on Clarence Street will be open 7 days a week, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Volunteer-run overdose prevention
A pop-up overdose prevention site in Lowertown's Raphael Brunet Park has been operating since Aug. 25. The site offers space for people to use drugs under supervision and is staffed by volunteers with healthcare experience and experts in working with people who use drugs.
More than 900 people have visited the tent.
The pop-up site has faced growing opposition from neighbours unhappy with its location near their homes.
The site was not sanctioned by Health Canada and volunteers acknowledged the risk that it could be shut down. But they said the need for an injection site was urgent and could not wait for government approval.
Unclear whether tent will stay
Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury asked in a Facebook post on Sept. 12 that services offered at the pop-up site be transitioned to the new interim facility on Clarence Street once it's opened. Mayor Jim Watson also expressed his hope that the tent shut down once the interim site opens.
But Marilou Gagnon, a public health nurse and volunteer with Overdose Prevention Ottawa, says both the pop-up site and Health Canada sanctioned site should operate in tandem. Toronto and cities in B.C. with prevention sites have both government and volunteer-run facilities, she said.
"It seems like only here we have this idea that by opening one it closes the other. I would challenge that and say that co-existing models is the way to go," Gagnon said.
"There's been some media coverage this week of overdoses on the rise in Ottawa and I don't think we're in a position to actually shut anything down right now," she added. "I would think that would be irresponsible."
Sandy Hill Community Health Centre's Nelson Street location will be the home of the permanent supervised injection site, but the facility isn't expected to be open until late October, 2017.