Supervised injection trailer now open at Shepherds of Good Hope

Staff say they were just waiting on the final Health Canada approval.

“They could still call today,” says Deidre Freiheit, President and CEO of the Shepherds of Good Hope, as journalists got a first look at the supervised injection trailer. “Once we have the exemption, we’ll be ready to open.”

That message came in at 5:45 p.m. Monday. Health Canada announced it was approving the application for the trailer, and it would be open for service November 7.

"Supervised consumption sites are an important harm reduction measure and part of the Government of Canada’s comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate and evidence-based approach to drug policy," Health Canada spokesperson André Gagnon says in a statement. "International and Canadian evidence shows that, when properly established and maintained, supervised consumption sites save lives and improve health without increasing drug use or crime in the surrounding area."

The trailer in the parking lot on Murray Street is decorated with a sign that says “Care.”

Inside, there are buckets of Crocs, warm lighting, eight injection bays with privacy curtains, and plenty of naloxone.

A sign that says “HOPE” hangs on the wall outside the injection bays.

“The services are needed,” Freiheit says. “There are people in crisis and we’re responding to a crisis that escalated over the summer to a level that we could not have foreseen. Once fentanyl came to town, and the overdose crisis hit, we’ve had to look at what we do to respond to that, and this is what you’re seeing here.”

The process is organized. Clients will enter the Shepherds of Good Hope on King Edward Avenue and request use of the shelter. Staff will then radio back to ask if a bay is free. If one is available, the client will be walked around the corner to the trailer, where they can take off their winter clothes and put on some comfortable shoes. They sit in a bay – just a chair and a table with a mirror and a small light – and when they’re ready, flip a switch to let a nurse know. The nurse will supervise the injection, and will be prepared in the event of an overdose. Once the client is done, they head to the other end of the trailer, where there will be comfortable chairs, coffee and tea, and a couple of TVs, equipped with Netflix and PlayStation.

At least two staff members will be inside the trailer at all times – it will operate 24/7 – and staff are equipped with walkie-talkies and pendants that can dial 9-1-1. Security cameras are ubiquitous.

Ottawa Inner-City Health is providing the medial staff for the trailer. Wendy Muckle, the Executive Director, says they’re also getting help from people who have been through addiction before.

“There are quite a few people from the drug-using community whose lives are stable enough that they want to give back to the community,” Muckle says. “We’ve really been able to take advantage of that strength and that capacity in the community to get people with lived experience involved in doing good things.”

Muckle says they’re expecting between 100 and 150 people a day once the trailer opens, with the majority coming in the evening and overnight.

“What we’re hoping to see, really, we’d like to not see any overdoses,” she says. “We’d like to see people here, getting care, and preventing overdoses from occurring.”

While the focus of the trailer will be on harm reduction and supervised injections, Muckle says treatment options are also on the table.

“We’re going to offer people access to methadone, suboxone, and opiate substitution,” Muckle says. “There is very good evidence that, for people who are chronic opiate users, abstinence treatment is not recommended. We are certainly going to be offering people access to a wide range of evidence-based services and trying to match the right kind of treatment to the nature of the person’s condition.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Freiheit.

“Harm reduction works for those people,” she says. “They’re able to come and get the services with us, and we can help them when they’re ready to get to the next level. They may want to access treatment at a certain point, but they may not be ready when they first come to us.”

Rideau-Vanier Councillor Mathieu Fleury says he’s happy to see the site getting ready to go, but there are still concerns in the area.

“It doesn’t remove that there’s a criminal exchange of [drugs] somewhere,” Fleury says. “Often, now, somewhere in the neighbourhood. You can’t have a site like this, sanctioned and open, without also additional foot presence by Ottawa Police.”

Muckle says there is concern about drug deals taking place outside the trailer, but she’s hopeful it won’t be an issue.

“People do really seem to understand that this is a safe-haven for people to use drugs; it’s not a place for drugs to be bought and sold,” Muckle says. “And, to state the obvious, if the police are here, it will make it harder for people to access the services. It’s in everyone’s best interest to take the drug activity outside of this neighbourhood, and we’re really hoping to work really closely with Ottawa Police to make that happen.”

Fleury adds he wants the Province’s help when it comes to treatment options.

“We saw last Friday the Province come out of nowhere to say, ‘if the City asks for a tent or a generator, we’ll offer it.’” Fleury says. “I think the Province needs to step up and demonstrate what additional dollars and which organization they’re going to fund so there’s more treatment beds in Ottawa.”

Fleury would not say whether the City would shut down the unsanctioned injection site, run by Overdose Prevention Ottawa in Raphael Brunet Park.

“Let’s allow the trailer to open,” he says. “I certainly think it changes the dynamic. When we opened the site at Clarence, we thought that was going to be the transition point out of the park and into a sanctioned site, but it was limited to two stands. What we’re seeing here at the Shepherds, it’s a much more extensive approach. They’re ready here at Inner City Health and Shepherds of Good Hope and hopefully there’s an appropriate transition.”