Thunder Bay

Overdose prevention site building relationship with clients, community

Client uptake has been slow at first, but the head of the NorWest Community Health Centres, which runs the program, says that was to be expected.

Funding expected to continue past Jan. 31

The overdose prevention site is located in the basement of the NorWest Community Health Centres building on Simpson Street. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

Close to two months after it opened its doors in Thunder Bay, Ont., the city's first overdose prevention site is continuing its work to educate the public and clients, about the service it offers. 

Client uptake at the site, which offers a clean, supervised space for people to use illicit drugs, has been slow at first, said Juanita Lawson, CEO of the NorWest Community Health Centres, but staff outreach is also starting to pay off. 

"We have seen individuals come on a regular basis, they're starting to bring other people, and so we're starting to build that relationship and rapport," she said. 

Juanita Lawson is the CEO of NorWest Community Health Centres. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Some people using the service have expressed concerns that the police might be called if they come to the site, said Lawson, and staff have been working to clear up the misconception. "So it's about saying: 'that's not what this service is about,'" she said. 

It's also important for the broader community to learn about the site, she said. On Tuesday, an open house was held to give people a chance to learn more about its approach to harm reduction.

Clients bring their own drugs to the site, but are able to access clean drug-use supplies if they need them. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

"I don't want to underestimate that [the site] is still a concern for many people in our community," Lawson said, adding that it's about more than supervised drug consumption.

"It's a place where people can come and be engaged with a team that really cares about that person's overall health and well-being," she said, adding that staff can help connect clients with other services, treatment programs or even housing. 

Lawson said short-term funding for the program is expected to be renewed for another month after January 31, while work continues to secure long-term funding.