British Columbia

Pop-up supervised injection tent in Downtown Eastside sees steady stream of users

Janet Charlie's 26-year-old son Tyler died of a fentanyl overdose in August so she knows the need for facilities like a pop-up supervised injection tent opened by a pair of community activists in a Vancouver Downtown Eastside alley.

People were overdosing all around us, say organizers

The pop-up harm reduction site averages 110 injections a day. (Belle Puri )

Janet Charlie's 26-year-old son Tyler died of a fentanyl overdose in August so she knows the need for facilities like a pop-up supervised injection tent opened by a pair of community activists in a Vancouver Downtown Eastside alley.

Janet Charlie says if there had been more supervised injection sites in the city, her son might not have died of a drug overdose. (Belle Puri )

"I think it would have saved him," said Charlie. 

"He'd have somebody watching him, somebody who knows narcan training." 

Narcan is the brand name for naloxone, an opioid used to reverse the effects of a drug overdose. 

It's available at the tent which is a place for overdose-prevention, harm reduction and outreach.

Big need 

Organizers Sarah Blyth and Ann Livingston estimate volunteers at the tent have had to use narcan at least 24 times to save a life since the facility opened on Sept. 20.  

Sarah Blyth and Ann Livingston argue harm reduction supplies for drug users must be easily available. (Belle Puri )

"We're not going to stand by and watch people die in the alley and that's what we would be doing if we didn't do anything," said Blyth, who is a former Vancouver park commissioner. 

The tent has a few clean tables, chairs and supplies for intravenous drug users. 

Between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m., it averages 110 injections a day.

"We're getting the stuff from Vancouver Coastal Health and from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control," said Livingston. 

"And we're saving all the ambulance calls, the emergency room visits."

GoFundMe campaign 

It costs approximately $100 a day to operate the tent. All of the money comes from donations.

A GoFundMe campaign called Overdose Prevention in the Downtown Eastside has been started to raise $3,000 to keep the facility open for at least another month.

"We need lots more cleaning supplies. We could use some funding for brooms to clean up the alley," said Blyth. 

"Before we were in the alley, there were needles on the ground. Now, we make sure that they're gone." 

City of Vancouver doesn't support site

The City of Vancouver says the individuals operating the pop-up facility are acting on their own. 

This is not a sanctioned safe injection site, it said Thursday in a written statement.

The city says it supports Vancouver Coastal Health's applications for additional supervised injection sites which plans to open two new sites in early 2017. 

It already runs Insite on the Downtown Eastside, but drug users say lineups and waits at that supervised drug injection site are too long.  

Great idea 

A DTES resident who would only give his name as John says he's been clean from drugs for awhile but thinks the pop-up site is a great idea if it prevents fatal overdoses.  

DTES resident John is happy to see the pop-up injection site in one of the busiest alleys for people who use drugs. (Belle Puri )

"I've lost friends this way. It's not something I want to see again," said John.

Janet Charlie is a regular volunteer at a coffee stand that helps fund the supervised injection tent. 

"I wish they had this in August back then. My son would be still here," said Janet Charlie.

"He was only 26 years old."