On its twentieth day of operation, Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO) continues to provide life-saving harm reduction services to its guests.
OPO applauds the upcoming expedited opening of Sandy Hill Community Centre’s supervised injection service, and yesterday’s announcement that Ottawa Public Health will be opening a satellite supervised injection service on Clarence Street in the coming weeks. We are also encouraged to see Somerset West Community Health Centre’s and Ottawa Inner City Health`s supervised injection service pending approval by Health Canada.
OPO has worked collaboratively with all Ottawa harm-reduction partners and stakeholders since opening and will continue to do so moving forward. As OPO continues to be the only active overdose prevention service coupled with harm reduction services for those most affected by drug prohibition and homelessness, our services will continue operating. OPO is committed to an evidence-based model of care that is demonstrably successful and unique in the City of Ottawa. Decades of advocacy by people who use drugs informed our best practices. Our guests have been clear that what we offer works for them; “this is saving my life” are words we regularly hear from guests using the tents.
OPO provides an essential health service where people feel respected and worthy. In the early days of our operation, one guest demonstrated the essential nature of OPO’s service when she turned to us and asked, “Where have you been all my life?” Open for only 3 hours per day, our service has been accessed 575 times in 19 days of operation. More importantly, we have leveraged and built deep connections with community members, agencies and services who provide us with daily kind words, donations, and gratitude. Last Friday, September 8th, when a few neighbours tried to physically prevent us from opening our service, outstanding community support resulted in no disruption to our regular service.
The overdose emergency facing our city is a direct result of the ongoing war on drug users, neglect of the homeless and those living in deep poverty, and inaction by each level of government. This very inaction and apathy, municipally, provincially, and federally has contributed to a climate where a small minority of residents are able to relentlessly harass our volunteers and our guests while we provide this life-saving service. Despite receiving hundreds of letters of support for our site and a personal invitation to visit our service, Mayor Jim Watson continues to spread misinformation and ignore expert knowledge on the matter. Out of the 25 overdose prevention sites in Canada, no other civic leader, entrusted with the safety and duty of care for citizens, has behaved as recklessly with his own resident’s lives as Mayor Watson. Ignorance and apathy during this crisis are not an option. Overdose Prevention Ottawa is proud of its over 60 volunteers who work tirelessly through this turbulence to maintain a high quality, accessible, and safe service for our guests.
We thank the leadership of agencies who have supported OPO’s action since its opening. OPO will continue to work collaboratively in the transition towards new supervised consumption services in Ottawa. We expect the Clarence Street service to follow harm reduction best practices and to be peer-staffed and peer-responsive, low barrier, meaningfully accessible for people who use drugs, invested in building relationships, and open 7 days a week during the day and evenings.
As details become available on the format and approach of services to be offered by Ottawa Public Health, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, Somerset West Community Health Centre and Ottawa Inner City Health, OPO will continue to advocate and respond to the needs of people who use drugs in Ottawa.
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