Hind ‘site’ still a little blurry

The Week, May 31: Four years after Victoria lost its fixed-site needle exchange, people are still asking why?

While Victoria lost its fixed-site needle exchange four years ago, experts still agree stationary locations are the way to get needles off the streets.

The Week, May 31: Four years after Victoria lost its fixed-site needle exchange, people are still asking why?

It’s been four years since Victoria had a fixed-site needle exchange, but the day of that site’s death is not an anniversary that goes unnoticed.

This Thursday, May 31, lobby groups from around our city and sister city Vancouver will team up with Victoria City Council to present a special event on the topic: Why InSite Won, an open dialogue on one of the most heated issues the two cities have had to face, and a public attempt at decoding the role supervised injection sites play in addressing addiction.

The event will showcase speakers from the front lines of the struggle for InSite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site, who will share stories of how community involvement, research, policy and legal strategies led to the success of Canada’s most-discussed harm-reduction service.

“As long as we have a deficit of services for one group in our community, there is a deficit in the health of the community as a whole,” says James Boxshall, acting executive director of AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI). “We believe it is essential that we continue to gather together to engage in dialogue about possible solutions to filling this gap in services and to learn from this example of what is possible when the community comes together.”

In September 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled to uphold InSite’s exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, allowing the facility to stay open indefinitely. While Victoria’s fixed-site needle exchange suffered closure four years ago (in large part due to NIMBY fears), last week the city proclaimed May 27 to June 2 “Community Solidarity for Harm Reduction Week” and took an official stance in support of the May 31 event.

“Victoria has always been very close to finding its solution, but through changes in politicians or public perception, it’s had to keep revisiting this old discussion,” says Dean Wilson, community liaison for the Portland Hotel Society Center for Drug Users and former president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users. “What we know now is that providing safe facilities for people takes them out of public view, and keeps this problem off the streets.”

Wilson, who was the litigant for all three InSite trials and was featured in the documentary Fix: The Story of an Addicted City, was addicted for 44 years and has been sober for two. Speaking from the inside, he says there are still so many heavy misconceptions about what supervised injection sites involve — safe injection is only a part of it. InSite also offers needle exchange, a clinic for medical services and detox beds. Meanwhile, AVI continues to serve clients through a daily bicycle and on-foot service, as well as at a vehicle parked near downtown in the evenings.

“People are afraid these sites have a honey pot effect, but we know they don’t. Half the people they are trying to serve won’t cross the street to get fresh gear,” says Wilson, who will be speaking at the event. “This isn’t some big party we’re all going to. This is serious addiction with people who have to take care of it. And dead people don’t detox.”

Why InSite Won will be held Thursday, 7 p.m. at Ambrosia Events Centre (638 Fisgard), and is presented by Pivot Legal Society, AVI, VIPIRG, SOLID, VARCS, Harm Reduction Victoria, The Beddow Centre and Allies of Drug War Survivors. Tickets are free, but required at whyinsitewon.eventbrite.com.

Calling all supermen/women

Speaking of stress, an exciting opportunity has cropped up for people who believe they are calm under pressure and have a hunger for helping others.

The Victoria Emergency Management Agency is now looking for volunteers to join its specialized Urban Search and Rescue Team — a group of dedicated individuals ready to dig up and pull out people trapped in collapsed buildings in Victoria after an earthquake.

While you don’t actually have to be a super human to do the job, volunteers should be physically fit, willing and able to lift heavy objects, crawl, work in confined spaces or on ropes, and be willing to learn how to use specific power tools and other related equipment. Self-motivated team players are essential.

“We need people who are excited to be part of the team, but also realize that they may never get called,” says Rob Johns, VEMA emergency coordinator.

All training is provided free of charge, and is open to anyone over 19 who passes a criminal record check. To learn more visit PrepareVictoria.ca, email vema@victoria.ca or call 250-920-3373. M

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