As many of you may know, in Victoria, BC, we have been facing a drastic reduction in the availability of harm reduction services. On May 31, 2008, the city’s only primary needle exchange shut its doors, after 20 years of operating, because the service had outgrown its funding and physical location, two issues that the funder (our local health authority) and other stakeholders had been unwilling to help us address. Neighbourhood pressure, including a pending law suit, and the inability to find a new location, forced us to move our services to a mobile delivery model.
The foot/bike mobile service was meant to be a temporary stop gap. Valuable though mobile services are, they cannot provide the necessary services that can only be offered at a fixed site in an accessible location. Now, over 2 years later, at AIDS Vancouver Island we are still struggling to move through the political hurdles and other barriers to re-opening our service. While our harm reduction workers continue to pound the pavement to provide supplies and support and while several other service providers provide secondary needle exchange services (at low volumes), our clients still report difficulties accessing supplies. Our needle distribution numbers hover at of 60-70% the levels at our fixed site needle exchange, and relationships with clients continue to deteriorate as workers are unable to provide adequate education and support while delivering service on the sidewalk.
Stigma against people who use drugs continues to plague our “garden city” (which ironically clients refer to as the “gated city”). Until we are able to illustrate that needle exchanges operate “quietly,” integrated in neighbourhoods across the country, we may remain stuck in this rut.
For those of you who work at fixed site needle exchanges, I have a request. We need to get beyond the equation that needle exchange = chaos and public disorder. I am working on a PowerPoint presentation of what needle exchanges look like and would love to get photos from colleagues across the country. I have some from the HR network research project (http://www.canadianharmreduction.com/project/) but would love more. Images of the outside of your buildings and streetscape and inside your service (with smiling faces) would be very helpful. Please send images to [email protected]. Once completed, I will post the presentation to our website so that it can be of use to others.
Those of you who don’t work at needle exchanges – or who don’t have photos to share – and are concerned about the wellbeing of Canadian citizens who are unable to access this proven disease prevention and health promotion service, we invite you to write a brief note to the BC Minister of Healthy Living & Sport (http://www.leg.bc.ca/mla/3-4.asp ) to urge a quick resolution to this issue.
Manager of Communications, Community Relations & Research
AIDS Vancouver Island