INJECTION SITE GOES A STEP HIGHER
Drug addicts who use the city's supervised injection site in the Downtown Eastside will be eligible to stay in rooms directly above the site as they await detox and a permanent home.
Called Onsite to complement Insite, the name of the injection site, the top two floors of the building at 137 East Hastings will be renovated to accommodate 30 beds for clients of the site.
Insite, the only legal injection site in North America, is located on the first floor and opened in September 2003. It's open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m.
City council approved a development permit April 4 that allows Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and Portland Hotel Society to proceed with the project.
"We're anxious to get the services up and running," said Dr. David Marsh of the health authority. "Given the amount of renovation that needs to happen, we're hoping opening late this year, early next year."
Marsh cautioned that people staying in the rooms will not be allowed to use drugs in the rooms. Staff from Insite, however, will be on hand to provide home nursing care, home detox and counselling services.
Onsite will not provide permanent residences for people, said Marsh, noting a person waiting for detox might stay two to four days. Those people seeking housing could stay for up to six weeks, he added.
About 60 per cent of addicts who call the city's central phone number for detox are admitted within two days, Marsh said.
"But people who are homeless, or don't have phones for us to call them back, wait longer and a proportion of them drop out. So that's the purpose of those beds, really."
Marsh doesn't buy the argument that housing drug addicts over an injection site would only encourage an addict to continue using, or that it's the same as a housing a recovering alcoholic over a pub.
"I'd say they're better off living in that residence than they would be in the alley where everybody around them might be using drugs or selling drugs."
An eligible candidate for Onsite must be a regular client of the injection site, have housing problems and be waiting for permanent housing or detox.
The Vancouver Agreement, a funding arm of all three levels of government, is covering the $1.9 million renovation. The health authority will pay the $350,000 annual operating costs.
Onsite is not part of the Health Canada-approved pilot project involving the injection site, which ends in September. The health authority has not received any indication from Health Canada whether it will continue to allow the injection site to operate.
Health Canada allowed an exemption under the country's drug laws for the injection site to open. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, during the winter election campaign, said a Conservative government would not use taxpayers' money to fund drug use.
Though Harper didn't clearly say he would scrap funding or overturn the Health Canada exemption for the injection site. Marsh wouldn't comment on the politics surrounding the injection site.
The provincial government supplied $1.2 million to renovate the East Hastings building for its use as an injection site. It also supplies $2 million a year to operate the site.
Health Canada provided $1.5 million for the research component of the three-year pilot project.
Conservative Health Minister Tony Clement has the power to overturn the exemption, which would ultimately shut down Insite.
Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Vancouver Courier