It was standing room only at the Halifax North Memorial Library for a community meeting on Monday evening as they discussed a proposed overdose prevention site (OPS) in the neighbourhood.
“It was powerful and what I saw was progress and we may never agree, right. However, what we do understand from both ends of it is that there needs to be more communication,” said Marcus James, the president and co-founder of 902 ManUp.
The meeting was organized by 902 ManUp. The community-based organization strives to engage members of the African Nova Scotian community with topics and issues that affect them.
Many concerns were raised by residents who felt like their voices weren’t part of the consultation process.
“There’s a lot of historical concerns particularly with this community around racism, discrimination, gentrification, education issues, police issues and most of them, if not all, are unresolved. So, with that compounding having this kind of being proposed and not consulting with the community it poses a concern for residents,” said DeRico Symonds, a meeting attendee.
The crowd included members of the HaliFIX Overdose Prevention Society, a coalition of harm reduction advocates pushing to bring the life-saving healthcare service to Halifax.
While the dialogue got heated at times, the group embraced the feedback and welcomes community collaboration.
“We would love to collaborate with the community and go forward, and I think the most important part to take home from it is everybody agrees that we have a bad drug problem in this city. It doesn’t discriminate.”
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The proposed location for the site was a sticking point during the evening.
The current proposal would see the site open inside Direction 180, a community-based methadone clinic that’s already established in the neighbourhood.
However, concerns were raised over the location being too close to historical African Nova Scotian services like the New Horizons Baptist Church and the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute.
Bonn says he recognizes the sensitivity regarding the location and that despite it being an opportunity to integrate the site with other harm reduction services, it isn’t set in stone.
“We just need to work together now and find the proper location for anyone who is using substances if it’s Indigenous, African Nova Scotian, Caucasian; race isn’t an issue here, we want the substance users to be safe,” he said.
One talking point the majority of the crowd was in agreement on was the value of the life-saving service.
“It was pretty resounding that nobody was opposed to a safe injection site,” Symonds said.
According to Health Canada, OPS have been temporarily set up in order to address the current opioid crisis.
Reducing overdose deaths is the goal of these sites.