Injection site scaling back hours due to funding shortfall

Ottawa Public Health's Clarence Street injection site will be closed evenings and weekends starting January 2020 — the same time federal funding for the harm reduction site is expected to dry up.

Clarence Street site will no longer operate evenings, weekends

The supervised injection site at 179 Clarence St. is home to two booths where people can inject drugs under the watchful eye of a nurse. (Radio-Canada)

The Clarence Street supervised injection site run by Ottawa Public Health (OPH) will be closed evenings and weekends starting January 2020 — the same time federal funding for the harm reduction site is expected to dry up.

Beginning next year, the site will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on weekends. Until then, the site will continue to operate seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The city's board of health approved the decision last week, said Andrew Hendriks, director of health protection at OPH.

"There was ... a desire for us to continue to provide some level of service despite not having specific funding for supervised consumption services," Hendriks told CBC. 

The site first faced cuts when the provincial government pulled its funding in March 2019 — the only supervised injection site out of the city's four locations to lose that funding.

In June, the federal government announced it would step in to front the costs, an amount Hendriks said totalled about $550,000 over the course of six months. 

It currently costs around $90,000 per month to operate the site. That number will drop when the reduced hours come into effect, but will still be partially offset by money from the city's public health budget.

"It's not ideal that we have to reduce our service levels," Hendriks said. "We recognize that a change in the service hours or the operating hours may have an impact on clients."

Ottawa Public Health director Andrew Hendriks, pictured outside 179 Clarence St. in 2017, said there's still a 'very toxic drug supply' in Lowertown, where many overdoses occur. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Finding 'middle ground'

If the decision to shut down the site at night and on weekends seems counterproductive to the goal of reducing dangerous drug use, Hendriks said that isn't the case.

"We get clients that come into our services ... at all hours of the day, so from right when we open to right when we close. There wasn't a particular time of the day it was busier or not as busy as others."

The public health director said when the discussion to reduce hours arose, clients were part of the conversation.

"The traditional kind of daytime hours was their preference. But also they acknowledged that ... their main preference was that we would stay open 12 hours a day," Hendriks explained. "We're just trying to find that middle ground."

Easing transition for clients

Part of that middle ground will be found at the injection site at Shepherds of Good Hope, a three-minute walk from the Clarence Street location.

Hendriks said OPH has a "transition plan" in place to help apprehensive clients migrate to the new site when their usual spot is closed. 

"We've got a couple of ways that we can do that, by accompanying them to other locations, by making sure that our staff are able to possibly be on site to welcome them to those other facilities," Hendriks explained. "So just to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks."

Tourniquets and other supplies line a shelf at Ottawa Public Health's supervised injection site on Clarence Street in 2017. Hendriks said the site will be working on a transition plan for the next six weeks to make sure clients' needs are met. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

The site at Shepherds of Good Hope site is open 24 hours a day and has 13 consumption booths compared to Clarence's two, so Hendriks hopes no one will be left unserved.

But the spot will still be missed by some clients, whom Hendriks said prefer the more intimate atmosphere of 179 Clarence St. 

"It's a little bit more therapeutic, in the sense that ours is led by nurses, social workers and outreach workers," Hendriks said.