When we first started work in the North Park community in 2007, we operated across the street from VicPD on Caledonia St, providing drop-in HIV/HepC support groups and morning and evening syringe recovery to local streets/parking lots, parks and schools.
In 2017, we grew quickly to address the overdose emergency, hiring and training ‘peer’ experiential overdose prevention workers to provide rapid response overdose prevention. In 2020, in response to COVID-based emergency housing needs, we rapidly extended our services again to provide overdose prevention supports at new temporary sheltering sites. We currently employ over 40 experiential harm reduction workers at various off-site services. These include: ‘The Harbour’ supervised consumption service on Pandora, overdose prevention rooms at three housing facilities in Victoria, and an on-foot overdose prevention team that provides naloxone trainings and links to health and treatment services to people living on the street and in supportive housing in Victoria.
In 2018, as a way of addressing continued high rates of death by overdose among our membership, we introduced a ‘Cannabis Substitution Program’ aimed at giving individuals an alternative to potentially deadly opiate, meth and crack use (due to potentially lethal amounts of fentanyl). This program helps individuals change their daily drug use habits by providing a daily substitution amount of cannabis. This also gives us another contact point for linking individuals to more health, support and treatment services. A recent study by UVic’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research found participants reported decreased use of other drugs, better pain management, and improved health in terms of eating and sleeping habits. A key finding is that low to no cost for substitution amounts of cannabis allows better financial options for people on low or no income, including options to buy food with money that is not used for street drugs.
At our most recent location at 1056 North Park (at Cook St), we continue to provide health education programs including daily support groups such as our indigenous women’s group, hep-c education group, and creative writing and music therapy groups. We also operate our morning and evening syringe recovery and harm reduction teams, and provide support getting ID, accessing social assistance, and accessing health services (such as accompanying individuals to hospital and doctor visits).
Our on-site services include:
- Health Education, Support and Arts Therapy Groups – support meetings and courses include HIV/HEPC prevention, facilitation and presentation skills, creative writing, indigenous women’s support, and music therapy.
- Street outreach – distribution and recovery of harm reduction supplies, naloxone training and safer use health education.
- Peer Systems Navigation – supporting individuals in accessing medical care and treatment, assisting with identification paperwork, accessing social assistance and persons with disability supports, and navigating our court and legal systems.
- Drug Checking – working with Dr. Bruce Wallace (UVic/CISUR) in research aimed at providing accurate and reliable drug testing to locate and identify fentanyl in drug supply.
- Cultural safety – working with Dr. Bernie Pauly (UVic/CISUR) in educating health service providers in best practices for ensuring accessibility of hospitals and primary care to people who use drugs and who are street-involved.