Safe-consumption drug site pops-up in Nanaimo City Hall parking lot

By Dominic Abassi
December 26, 2016 - 8:26pm

NANAIMO — While bureaucrats wade through discussions about setting up an official supervised drug-consumption site in Nanaimo, people are dying.

That situation has motivated Nanaimo Coun. Gord Fuller and a group of volunteers to open a pop-up safe-consumption location they're calling ONSITE in the parking lot of City Hall.

Less than 20 steps from a space reserved for the mayor, a walled tent has been erected in the corner of the parking lot facing onto Dunsmuir Street in downtown Nanaimo. Inside is a chair for users to sit in while they consume, tables stacked with snacks and needle disposal bins and a small propane fireplace.

The site opened for the first time at 7 a.m. Monday. By 1 p.m. it had yet to see its first client. The goal, according to Fuller, is to have the location open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. everyday until something permanent can be created.

"This is a stop-gap measure," said Fuller, who was bringing supplies to the site Monday afternoon. "Ya, it's frustrating (dealing with health authorities and governments) but you know when you deal with bureaucracy you run into that all the time...we'll work around it."

Fuller says he feels himself and a small group of volunteers have done a pretty good job of putting something together in just a few days. He says their plan is to provide an environment with naloxone kits, as well as people trained to use the overdose-reversing drug.

"We've also got the outreach numbers we can give them, any of the other services in town we can access...we can actually take in old needles and exchange them for new ones while they're here," said Fuller.

The City Hall parking lot is available and provides a central location, Fuller says. He referenced a nearby hill as being popular with drug users and people sleeping outside. He says city administration were made aware of his plans last week.

"No one has expressed any concerns at this point. We figure we're out of the way...it's central and it is very low-key. Hopefully it'll pick up, more and more people will start coming to it."

Jeremy Kalicum was volunteering at the tent on Monday. He's an aspiring doctor studying at Vancouver Island University and has a passion for harm-reduction and working with the community. That led him to contact Fuller to offer his help for the pop-up initiative. Kalicum says he is a level three first aid attendant and has been trained to administer naloxone.

"It's terrifying, especially since we don't have a site like this setup already, like they have in Victoria and Vancouver. Nanaimo needs a safe-consumption site and we need it yesterday...policy makers need to remove the red tape that is holding people back from establishing sanctioned sites."

Fuller says they have some outreach workers spreading the word about the City Hall consumption site, as well as communication through the 7-10 Club. He says the community response has been phenomenal, noting they have received some financial donations, which they will need more of going forward. Fuller says he has pledged $1,000 of his own money to the cause and has already spent about $600.

According to the most recent report from the BC Coroners Service there have been 25 drug overdose deaths in Nanaimo through the end of November. The 10-year average is 10 deaths per year and the previous high was 20 in 2013, according to the report.

In early November, Nanaimo council asked staff for a report on an officially sanctioned safe-consumption site. At that time the city's Social Planner John Horn described discussions as being in their early stages.

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Fuller says they will need more volunteers to help staff the tent in order to keep it open on a daily basis. He can be reached through Facebook or on his cell phone at 250-797-0531.

-- With files from Ian Holmes --

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