When Jack Phillips looks at the empty parking lot at 2920 Bridge St. in Rock Bay, he sees endless possibilities.
It could be transformed into a garden, a bike shop or an area for people to bring their dogs. But most importantly, he sees a community harm reduction health centre and a supervised injection site by and for people who use drugs.
Phillips is a street outreach coordinator and naloxone trainer with SOLID, an organization that provides support and education to drug users in Victoria. Now, Phillips, along with SOLID and other community groups, are calling on the Vancouver Island Health Authority and the City of Victoria to open a supervised injection site on Bridge Street to combat the growing number of overdoses in the province.
The proposed site will operate as a harm reduction community health centre by and for people who use drugs. Advocates hope the centre will also include a range of treatment options tailored to individual needs and that police entry will be limited.
“If we’re given the opportunity to work in a harm reduction environment without the eyes of security and police and hopefully the decriminalization of these drugs will be a huge help in ending the crisis state that we’re in,” Phillips said.
“This is a job we want to do, we want to serve this community. By giving us a permanent site, it would give us the building blocks to start doing that important work and then come to a point where we’re building community for everyone.”
Calls to open the Bridge Street injection site came on the national day of action, in which groups hoped to raise awareness of the overdose crisis that’s plagued the province in recent months.
According to the B.C. Coroners Service, in January, 116 people in the province died of an illicit drug overdose — an average of seven deaths every two days. Of those 116 people, seven were in Victoria.
Discussions are still ongoing regarding a supervised consumption service at Rock Bay, said Island Health, as they need to take into account building and infrastructure limitations, costs of renovations and the need to consider that similar services must be established in other areas around Vancouver Island as well.
However, the health authority isn’t ignoring the area. Earlier this month, it opened an overdose prevention service at 535 Ellice St., which provides emergency shelter, transitional housing and support services for high risk, vulnerable populations.
But Shane Calder with Allies of Drug War Survivors said the current service in Rock Bay doesn’t offer a “culturally safe” environment and wants a more comprehensive model for addictions treatment. “You want some recreation. We need to be able to have resources that also recognizes that people are still human beings,” Calder said.
Last year, the health authority submitted an application to the federal government for a supervised injection site at 941 Pandora Ave., which is pending approval. Our Place Society has since opened a pop-up injection site and has been used successfully by hundreds of people.