Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key

The importance of crit­i­cal com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion ver­sus the ur­gent need for an over­dose pre­ven­tion site.

The Coast - - THE CITY - BY CAORA MCKENNA

More than 40 com­mu­nity mem­bers and over­dose pre­ven­tion site ad­vo­cates at­tended a meet­ing at Hal­i­fax North Me­mo­rial Li­brary this week to dis­cuss the lo­ca­tion of a pro­posed Over­dose Pre­ven­tion Site in the com­mu­nity.

Mem­bers of the African Nova Sco­tian and greater north end com­mu­nity spoke about the his­toric importance of the pro­posed lo­ca­tion at the cor­ner of Got­tin­gen and Corn­wal­lis Streets in space in Direction 180’s build­ing— near the New Hori­zons Church, the mother church for the the African United Bap­tist As­so­ci­a­tion—and called out the OPS or­ga­niz­ers for in­suf­fi­cient com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion and con­ver­sa­tion.

Con­cerns that the OPS was an­other thing be­ing put into his com­mu­nity with­out “ac­tu­ally even be­ing in­volved in the con­ver­sa­tions” led 902 ManUp to ar­range the meet­ing, says the group’s pres­i­dent Marcus James.

The process for ac­tu­ally im­ple­ment­ing the site is also up in the air, and as a re­sult so is who will even­tu­ally be re­spon­si­ble for it, which makes pro­vid­ing suf­fi­cient in­for­ma­tion a chal­lenge.

Last fall, lead­er­ship from harm-re­duc­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions Direction 180 and Main­line along with health care work­ers, and some com­mu­nity ad­vo­cates held a meet­ing about the need for a lo­cal Over­dose Pre­ven­tion Site.

In Fe­bru­ary, the group, with sup­port from HRP, mayor Sav­age and oth­ers, presented its pro­posal to the pro­vin­cial govern­ment, which in­cluded Direction 180 as the pro­posed lo­ca­tion. The province said it would con­sider the pro­posal, but in­structed the di­rec­tors of Main­line and Direction 180 to step away from the OPS pro­ject un­til there was “pol­icy di­rec­tive” for im­ple­men­ta­tion, as their pro­grams al­ready have al­lo­cated fund­ing. An OPS would be a new ini­tia­tive in the harm-re­duc­tion strat­egy.

In re­sponse, Nova Sco­tia’s Hal­iFIX Over­dose Pre­ven­tion So­ci­ety was formed to main­tain momentum, which one of the founders and a for­mer ad­dict Matthew Bonn says was es­sen­tial to keep things mov­ing for­ward.

“We have to keep in mind that the most suffering per­son is the per­son who’s still us­ing un­safely,” says Bonn. “Their lives are at risk im­me­di­ately, right now, and we have to give them a life sav­ing ser­vice.”

Coun­cil­lor Lin­dell Smith asked city coun­cil for a re­port about the com­mu­nity im­pli­ca­tions of an OPS in the fall. Scott Sh­effield is cur­rently work­ing on the re­port and says the con­cerns raised at the meet­ing “re­in­forced some of the pieces that I’ve seen in terms of other ju­ris­dic­tions, the importance of com­mu­nity di­a­logue, and re­ally un­der­stand­ing the sit­u­a­tion be­fore you step into it.”

Treno Morton, a Queen’s Univer­sity stu­dent from the north end, echoes: “It’s something that’s going to take time. It is something that should be done. It is ur­gent, but it’s just going to take time.”

James says, “we un­der­stand the se­ri­ous­ness. We’re not new to this, we’re not new to it. All we’re say­ing is that if it’s a ser­vice that is going to go into our com­mu­nity, then we want to be a part of that.”

While the ini­tial pro­posal from Hal­iFIX mem­bers, Main­line and Direction 180 sits in the pro­vin­cial govern­ment’s hands, Bonn says Hal­iFIX is still in­tent on get­ting some form of an OPS up and run­ning as soon as possible, with or with­out govern­ment sup­port. Be­cause of a federal ex­emp­tion for harm re­duc­tion from Health Canada, Hal­iFIX doesn’t have to wait for pro­vin­cial ap­proval to open up. Bonn says they are “open to sug­ges­tions” and “want to work col­lec­tively with com­mu­nity part­ners to find the best lo­ca­tion get this foun­da­tion health­care ser­vice that is needed.

“Peo­ple who use sub­stances are in the most vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion and we need this life sav­ing ser­vice some­where they will ac­cess it,” says Bonn.

James says af­ter the meet­ing the com­mu­nity was feel­ing “for the first time in a long time, that they’re part of the de­ci­sion mak­ing in terms of what’s going on within their com­mu­nity, not just on this is­sue, but on gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, you know, they have they have no voice about what’s going on, and it was im­por­tant for them to fi­nally be heard.”

CAORA MCKENNA

Marcus James is the pres­i­dent of 902 ManUp.

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