Street Health's Overdose Prevention Site is OPEN:
Monday - Friday
11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Street Health has been operating health and social services at Dundas and Sherbourne for over 30 years. We opened an Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) in June 2018 as a response to the increased level of overdoses in our neighbourhood, in our driveway, and among our clients. Sherbourne and Dundas has the second highest number of calls to 911 for overdose in the entire city. The need here is great. We felt that it was important as an organization to try to do something to help the situation by providing overdose prevention services to try to connect with the people affected, in the context of a deadly drug supply that is killing many people.
The former Liberal government of Ontario gave organizations a very narrow window in which to apply for OPS funding. We did a brief survey with existing Street Health clients to determine whether there was a need for this service, and the answer was a resounding “yes”. We were successful in demonstrating both the extreme local need and an appropriate plan to provide the service, and the provincial government at the time provided us with a small amount of funding to run a two-booth site, open 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. About 2 weeks after opening, we had an open house during the reveal of Street Health’s Mosaic Project on July 13, 2018, and welcomed many interested and concerned community members. Since we opened on June 28, we have consistently seen an average of 15 visits per day during our 11 am – 4 pm operating hours. 60 % of our clients are women.
After running the service for five months, learning as we went, we engaged in an extensive community consultation. We hand delivered over 400 flyers to residents and businesses in the neighbourhood inviting them to another open house at the OPS and also a community meeting with representation from health professionals working on this issue, politicians, and the police. We invited political representatives at all levels. We invited Emergency Medical Services and the police. We hoped that this would be the first of many open, productive dialogues with residents and businesses in the community.
We have since successfully completed a lengthy “federal exemption” application process with Health Canada to ensure that we meet the federal government’s stringent criteria for providing these services. Our community consultation was deemed adequate, our hiring and staff training plan was approved, and our security measures to minimize risk were approved.
While Sherbourne and Dundas has been a hub of poverty and responsive social services for almost 100 years, there has been an undeniable increase in homelessness, visible poverty, and, most significantly, fatal and non-fatal overdoses in the past year that has hit this neighbourhood hard. This increase has been occurring since before we opened our OPS and is, in fact, our reason for opening it. When homeless people who use drugs have no place to use and are forced into public spaces, nobody wins. The approved sites in the neighbourhood are already very busy, and many of the clients we see will not go to them for that reason – they say they feel safest here. We feel strongly that removing any services at this juncture will make the situation much worse.