Jaclyn Letourneau, an outreach worker, and Corey Ranger, a street nurse, both work for the Safer Victoria Project, aiming to connect people who are currently unhoused with pharmaceutical alternatives to illicit street drugs. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

Jaclyn Letourneau, an outreach worker, and Corey Ranger, a street nurse, both work for the Safer Victoria Project, aiming to connect people who are currently unhoused with pharmaceutical alternatives to illicit street drugs. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

Unhoused community in Greater Victoria struggles to access safe supply

Safer Victoria Project working to connect people sheltering outside with pharmaceutical alternatives

In the two years leading up to the pandemic, Bill Phelps had been to the hospital more times than in his entire life.

He got wired on fentanyl after his pain medication for a years-old head injury was discontinued about two and a half years ago. He lost his job and ended up on the streets.

So when changes that would allow doctors, nurses and pharmacists to prescribe a safe supply of medication to people dealing with substance use disorder were introduced in March to combat the dual public health emergencies, Phelps wanted in.

“I did overdose a few times before the safe supply,” he said, sitting in the back room of Forbes Pharmacy on Gorge Road, one of the first pharmacies in the city to offer the program.

“A lot of my friends also died before safe supply. My friends were people that were able to work, they made a large income and paid taxes – good members of society – they were just stuck with medical injuries without proper medication and support.”

Phelps now lives in one of the hotels purchased by the province to provide housing to people sheltering outside during the pandemic. Medical staff are on site to help residents access health care services, but for those who are left outside, accessing a safe supply isn’t easy.

READ ALSO: Advocates call safe drug supply a victory but worry about logistics in pandemic

Cue the Safer Victoria Project. This team of nurses, outreach workers with lived experience, physicians and a systems navigator are working full-time to provide people sheltering in Victoria parks the medications they need.

Jaclyn Letourneau, an outreach worker with SOLID (a partner with Safer), spends most of her time in the community, connecting with her peers, handing out harm reduction supplies and building a bridge of trust.

”I’ve lived in the same situation before,” she said. “I’ve been at a shelter before. I’ve been on the streets. I know what they’re going through and I can relate to them and be like, ‘hey, this person is trustworthy, I’m working with them and you know me from the community.’ ”

Current estimates have more than 300 people still sheltering outside.

While Safer’s main goal is to connect unhoused people with a pharmaceutical alternative, the team does a lot more than that – whether it’s walking a client to the pharmacy to help them get their daily meds, or covering the cost of medication while someone gets their identification and insurance sorted. The project has connected with over 100 people and has got almost half of them onto safe supply.

“One thing people don’t acknowledge is safe supply is a great entry point for people who need connections to care, people who need to get their blood work done or haven’t seen a doctor in a long time,” said Corey Ranger, a nurse with Safer.

‘Nothing about us without us’

Another aspect of Safer is the qualitative and quantitative research component. At the start of the project, Safer ran focus groups and concept mapping exercises with people who are actively using substances – people who have been left unsheltered, and sex trade workers.

“Up until now there’s been a lot of decision-makers behind closed doors, making assumptions about what people need but the old mantra of ‘nothing about us without us’ is true,” said Ranger.

He is also involved in the advocacy side of the project, working at a provincial level to try to expand overdose mitigation guidelines to include the needs of people who smoke their drugs, which is currently not available through safe supply.

According to Ranger, more people are experiencing mental health concerns in the park as the cold begins to creep in. More people are staying in their tent, out of the rain, isolated from their peers and there’s a lot of frustration at being displaced, evicted, and shifted from encampment to encampment.

READ ALSO: PHOTOS: Rally at Ministry of Health calls attention to deadliest month of overdoses

Every time a person gets displaced, it increases their risk of overdosing because outreach workers and street nurses have a harder time finding them.

A UN Special Report on the right to housing states that no homeless person should be displaced if it’s going to lead to an exacerbation of homelessness – “but that’s exactly what’s been happening over the last six months,” Ranger said.

Housing first solutions

“One thing people don’t realize is that people who are homeless, they don’t get enough sleep,” said Phelps, who’s now been able to actually rest at night since moving into the hotels and getting onto safe supply. “Now I can do the things that got to get done to get on with daily life.”

A former operator of an English school for international students and one-time owner of a construction company, he can see himself getting back to life now with goals of getting involved with local politics to help others get stable housing and the proper supports.

Housing first initiatives have a proven track record, notes Ranger.

“When you can provide somebody their basic needs first and foremost, then the rest of their lives get a little bit easier to manage,” he said. “When you’re sleeping out in a tent and it’s raining and people are overdosing around you, it’s not really a priority to look into those types of things – you’re in survival mode.”

Ranger wants to see more consultation and engagement with people who are living in unsheltered locations. He’d also like to see a centrally located site for safe inhalation where people could get access to safe supply, which he says would be more efficient than having outreach workers going into the community to find people.


 

Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Safe injection sitesstreet drugs

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Pramode Lakhiani, Tahara Hosseini and Josh Karroll, pharmacists at Forbes Pharmacy on Gorge, one of the first places in the city to offer safe supply. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

Pramode Lakhiani, Tahara Hosseini and Josh Karroll, pharmacists at Forbes Pharmacy on Gorge, one of the first places in the city to offer safe supply. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

Just Posted

Rachna Singh, MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers, is the Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives. (Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/bcgovphotos)
Oak Bay local Lachlan Kratz (red, middle) has signed with pro rugby team NOLO Gold in Louisiana. (Contributed photo)
Oak Bay local signs with pro rugby team

Lachlan Kratz at 21 is now NOLO Gold’s youngest member

A micro brewery is being eyed for Jordan River. However, the site where the brewery is proposed still needs to go through the rezoning process. (Black Press Media file)
Micro brewery proposed for Jordan River

Jordan River Brewing Company envisions to build wholesale, sit-in brewery along Highway 14

Traffic waits at the intersection of Highway 17 and Beacon Avenue. A study found failing levels of service at the intersection of Highway 17 and Sidney’s Beacon Avenue for multiple movements during morning peak traffic and for all left-moving traffic during afternoon peak traffic. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Province supports potential interim improvements to Sidney intersection

Province says interchange is the long-term plan for intersection of Beacon Avenue and Highway 17

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

Most Read