While most people filed indoors to avoid -20 C weather, Chad Smith set up a tent near Roxby Park in Rutland and waited for any drug users who might need oversight while they injected.
“We had one person come,” said Smith, who Thursday opened a citizen driven pop-up overdose prevention site with a few other volunteers. “It was really interesting. The guy said ‘I don’t know what is in my stuff. I’m scared and don’t know what to do.’”
Smith and the other volunteers at the citizen-run OD prevention site led him into a private area where he could shoot-up, and they waited.
“I was counting when he went in there, but you have to leave them alone and give them some privacy,” he said. “I was relieved when he got up. I have the training with naloxone kits, but you don’t want to use it.”
Other than the one man, the site was relatively quiet, but Smith said he thinks that it’s done a great deal to amplify the call for a brick and mortar OD prevention site in Rutland.
“After we finish this week it’s back in IH’s court and they may have a permanent or portable site up sooner than later,” he said.
“That is the ultimate goal, we don’t want a pop up site to exist.”
B.C.’s overdose death count skyrocketed in 2016, and health authorities across the province offered up plans to keep drug users safe. Plans for an Asher Road site in Rutland were introduced and ultimately dashed last month after concerns were raised by tenants in the building.
Those concerns still exist in the neighbourhood.
Tom Patterson works at one of the businesses adjacent to the proposed Asher Road site, and he’s not sure if there would be any benefit to the neighbourhood if an overdose prevention site was put up.
“I’ve lived in this area my entire life and I’ve seen it go from what was a nicer Rutland to a hangout for the homeless,” he said, adding that he frequently finds open drug packets and needles in front of the store.
“Nobody wants a junkie on their doorstep, but that being said they should make some place for them shoot their stuff.”
Down the street a little, working at a Rutland pawn shop, Haydn Roberts offered a similar view.
“There’s a place for it, but I don’t think here is it,” he said. “I don’t think that it bodes well for any business to have it in a storefront location. It should be low-key where it won’t affect any businesses.”
That said, he acknowledge that the detritus from intravenous drug use is already noticeable in the area.
“A couple times a week I go around and pick up used hypodermics anyway.”
One man, who works in Rutland, pointed out that he had concerns with the pop up choosing to locate itself near to a preschool.
“That’s my kids daycare,” said Josh Collins, gesturing to a space across from the park. “My kid goes there. Having guys coming here just for the purpose of shooting up … I’m like, really? There’s children right there.”
Interior Health was not involved in the establishment of the “pop up” overdose prevention site, but representatives have said they support community driven initiatives delivered appropriately and safely.
“We continue to look for a location for an IH overdose prevention site in the Rutland area, to complement the site downtown,” said Dr. Silvina Mema, Medical Health Officer, last week.
“In the meantime, we will be working with Living Positive Resource Centre to provide enhanced harm reduction services in the Rutland area.”
A brick and mortar OD prevention site was set up at the old Health Services building on Ellis Street last month. An Interior Health representative has said that a small number of people have accessed overdose prevention and harm reduction services there.
“We recognize that it can take a while for this population to feel comfortable accessing a new service and anticipate that the number of people using the site will increase over time as awareness and comfort increases,” read a statement from the health authority.
There are no plans currently for another pop-up to go up.