British Columbia

Victoria's unique supervised consumption site getting positive reviews 1 year after opening

Victoria’s supervised consumption site, the Harbour, has been open a year and while many of the people involved say it’s a success so far, they also say there is more work to do.

New model dubbed a success, but police and peer support workers say there is still work to be done

Nic Hume says paramedics help clients with other medical issues on quiet days at Victoria's supervised consumption site (Liz McArthur)

A year after its doors opened, many of the people involved with Victoria's supervised consumption site are calling the unique model a success.

The site, known as The Harbour, is the only supervised consumption site in B.C. that has uniformed paramedics on staff. 

Nic Hume is one of those paramedics and says working on the front lines of B.C.'s ongoing opioid crisis can take a toll, especially when they make connections with the people who regularly access The Harbour's services. 

"Some people we watch deteriorate over a period of time and it can be really upsetting and it can be something we take home at the end of the day," said Hume. 

But, he says they also help connect people with other services like detox and rehab. 

"That's a really incredible feeling," said Hume. "You get to see people get through that long struggle and come out the other side."

And after working at the Harbour for the last eight months, he thinks the site is making a difference. "We're pointed on the right track. I think the model is working." 

Overall he says this job is unlike any other experience he's had in the workplace. 

"Being able to resuscitate someone from a very profound overdose or very, very profound medical event and have them actually wake up, stand up, shake your hand, look you in the eye and say, 'thank you for doing that. You saved my life. I really appreciate it is — I don't even know how to explain how gratifying that is. It's a pretty cool feeling," said Hume. 

B.C. Emergency Health Services says it took a year to develop new protocols, shift hours and other logistics to bring paramedics from ambulances to a fixed location, but the service says the model is working. 

"It makes a whole lot of sense," said Lance Stephenson, the BCEHS director on Vancouver Island who spearheaded the project. "Who better to respond to a medical emergency, an overdose, than a paramedic? This is our domain."

According to BCEHS, paramedics on site helped reverse more than 200 overdoses and the service says that means a big reduction in the need for ambulance responses in the city. 

Meanwhile, others say the site is still a work in progress.

Victoria police Chief Del Manak says early on in the process of setting up The Harbour they were aware of the limitations on an injection-only site because a large number of drug users in the city smoke rather than inject. 

"If a supervised [injection-only] consumption site was approved, it wasn't going to be the end-all, be-all, because we know the drug culture here and how people were consuming their drugs." 

Manak says there are many positives about the work at The Harbour, but says there are still concerns about open drug use on the 900 block of Pandora Avenue and a concentration of services for street-involved people and drug users in the area. 

"It's working on many levels. It is preventing overdose deaths, there's no doubt about it. But we also see from a policing perspective in the neighbourhood there's still work to be done." 

Jack Phillips is the executive director of SOLID Outreach which provides peer support to clients at The Harbour. 

He would also like to see the supervised consumption site expanded to include smoking. 

"I wish that we were accommodating to all people who would use this service." 

Phillips says there are still larger issues that are out of their control but impact the site and their clients. 

"Housing, access to medical care are still in the forefront of our minds as things that are challenging to the service we run there but has very little to do with the site." 


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