British Columbia

'No judgement here': Women-only overdose prevention site nears 2nd anniversary

As B.C.'s opioid crisis rolls into its fourth year, SisterSpace, a women-only overdose prevention site on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, continues to provide support for women in need.

Downtown Eastside facility a safe space for drug users

Kayla Fox is pictured in SisterSpace, the world’s first women-only overdose prevention site in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As the B.C. opioid crisis grinds on, SisterSpace, a women-only overdose prevention site, continues to provide special support for women in need.

SisterSpace opened in 2017, months after a provincial public health emergency was declared in April 2016 due to the number of opioid related deaths.

Kayla Fox, a peer support worker, recalls the atmosphere of fear as the number of overdose deaths escalated. She said the community needed safe places.

"It's like a home, I guess. There's no judgement here," Fox said.

SisterSpace is located in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"You know you would see people walking down the street one day and all of the sudden you wouldn't see them for a couple of days or even a week or whatever then you'd see a poster up of a memorial happening for them."

SisterSpace allows women to use substances in the presence of peers such as Fox who have been trained to use naloxone to reverse overdoses.

The space is a large living room with house plants and comfortable places to sit. There are clean needles in baskets at the entrance of the small, older Downtown Eastside building.

Fox can relate to women who are battling addictions and need a safe place to use illicit drugs. She came to Vancouver from a small town in Saskatchewan and says she started used drugs out of curiosity.

There are clean needles in baskets at the front of SisterSpace, the world’s first women-only overdose prevention site in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"You know come to a bigger city like this and you don't really know much about anything. You kind of get sucked in with the wrong people and that's what happened with me and kind of led down some really dark roads," she said.

The back wall at SisterSpace stands out.

It's covered with pages from adult colouring books that women worked on to ease their emotions and, in some cases, anxiety.

Kayla Fox by the art wall in SisterSpace in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday April 18, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Gilliana Soto works for Atira Women's Resource Society which runs the facility.

"The women started colouring and, yeah, everybody brings in their colouring stuff, like gel pens are a big thing."

Soto says SisterSpace not only helps prevent overdose deaths, but gives women with addictions a sense of community.