Safe injection tent stays put after city-run site opens

Organizers of a pop-up supervised injection site plan to keep their location open, despite a threat of police involvement from the area's councillor.

Organizers say they will continue operating while there's a need, despite threat of police involvement

The pop-up supervised injection site run by Overdose Prevention Ottawa in Raphael Brunet Park shut down in early November. Outgoing medical officer of health Dr. Isra Levy says that community is now well-served by other facilities. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Organizers of a pop-up supervised injection site plan to keep their location open, despite a threat of police involvement from the area's councillor.

The pop-up site run by volunteers with Overdose Prevention Ottawa operates in Raphael Brunet Park, two blocks away from the city's only sanctioned safe injection site at 179 Clarence St., which opened its doors for the first time Tuesday.

We're here. We're not going anywhere.- Catherine Hacksel, organizer 

"We're here. We're not going anywhere," said Catherine Hacksel, an organizer with Overdose Prevention Ottawa and a volunteer at the pop-up site. Despite the close proximity of the two sites, she doesn't see them as competitors.

In fact, the pop-up site has boosted the number of volunteers to let drug users who come to their tent know about the city's site because they're likely not aware it exists, she said.

Pop-up site referring users to city site

"A lot of folks who access [the tent] space are not going to be staying on top of these things right away. Why we're referring people to the service is we want to get their feedback and we want to encourage them to access new services in the community."

Overdose Prevention Ottawa volunteer Catherine Hacksel says the plan is to keep the pop-up site operating as long as there's a need in the community. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Hacksel said she saw a client consider visiting 179 Clarence St., Tuesday, which she felt was promising. She said the goal is to eventually get drug users accessing more permanent supervised injection services. But the problem has been those services didn't exist until Tuesday.

"We don't want to have to be here volunteering every night, setting up and tearing down and [thanking] folks for giving us water and funding. As much as it's very rewarding, it's very demanding doing this work," she said.

"So, if the professional health care agencies in this city are willing to do it, finally, great. That's really a step in the right direction. It's just, we're doing this work because we know that there's that gap in services still."

However, it comes down to trust for one drug user who only gave his first name, Marcel. He said he and some of his friends feel more comfortable visiting the pop-up site because he knows the volunteers.

"Here, it's more street people who have helped out in many areas," he said.

He said the city's new location would appeal more to drug users if they knew the people volunteering there.

A painted sign hangs at the pop-up supervised injection site at Raphael Brunet Park. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Councillor needs to visit site: organizer

Hacksel said Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury needs to visit the site to see how it operates. 

"He's so disconnected from this issue in so many ways," she said Tuesday.

Despite calls from the councillor to shutter the pop-up site, Hacksel said she would be surprised if it came down to that. 

"It would really be a first. There's [around] 26 overdose prevention sites like this operating across Canada and none of them have been shut down by their local police force or municipality," she said, adding she feels it would set a bad example from the city.

"We want more constructive, positive leadership. Here, we're not a nuisance. We're supporting folks who are already using drugs in this neighbourhood. We know we're having positive impacts in terms of preventing overdoses and connecting people with care."

The pop-up site was left to run without interference from police and appeared continuously busy as of early Tuesday evening. 

On Wednesday Ottawa Public Health announced eight people had used the supervised injection site on Clarence Street.

The city's only sanctioned supervised injection site officially opened its doors on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)