After years of fundraising and advocating for policy changes to expand harm reduction services, the HailFIX Overdose Prevention Society opened its doors in the summer of 2019.
“HaliFIX takes a lot of pride in fact that it was the first to get an OPS open in Atlantic Canada. It has a very strong grassroots basis in advocacy and policy change and fighting for harm reduction more broadly,” said San Patten, a researcher and member of the HaliFIX committee.
The goal of HaliFIX was to provide a safe space where trained staff were on hand to prevent fatal overdoses and connect people who use drugs with other health resources.
Patten says the goal of the society hasn’t changed, even though the location of the original OPS has now closed.
“Unfortunately, HaliFIX’s relationship with the sponsoring organization ended at the end of June and that particular location shut down.”
Cindy MacIsaac with Direction 180 says an application for a new Urgent Public Health Need Site is in the hands of Health Canada.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll have this site up and running in the next couple of weeks. I spoke with the Controlled Drugs and Substances office twice this week and we’re waiting for the final approval of our exemption,” she said.
The Brunswick Street Mission in Halifax’s north end has been selected as the new location for the OPS.
“This site will be a collaboration between the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, Direction 180, and Mainline, and the Brunswick Street Mission and of course, the people that use substances,” MacIsaac said.
The mission didn’t hesitate to support the harm reduction health service.
“We’ve known people who have died in those hidden areas, with no help available to them because no one knew they were there. So, to have a safe injection opportunity, a place where you can utilize what you need and have somebody with the knowledge to help if there’s an issue, it has to be an improvement,” said Sandy Nicholas, the executive director of the Brunswick Street Mission.
Irvine Carvery says the change in location is welcome news to members of the African Nova Scotian community.
The previous site was located beside the New Horizons Baptist Church, a historically significant church and community hub for African Nova Scotians.
“It’s a home of baptisms, of funerals, of weddings, of this community, forever. So, for us, it’s a sacred site,” he said.
Carvery said community members weren’t opposed to the overdose prevention service but that there was “strong opposition” to its location.
“Everybody agreed that’s a life saving, needed health measure. The issue was around the location,” Carvery said.
MacIsaac says she’s hopeful the new location will help mend the relationship with the African Nova Scotian community and help improve access to overall harm reduction services and supports.
“My hope is through our continued collaboration, also with the Community Advisory Group that we have in place to address any concerns that arise from the site, that we can work collectively together towards a municipal drug strategy and address some of those others gaps in services,” MacIsaac said.