Pubdate: Sun, 02 Aug 2009
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2009 Times Colonist
Author: Richard Watts
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


A proposed permanent needle-exchange site in Victoria has received a 
thumbs down from junkies, who say the area is too dangerous and too 
far from downtown.

In a July 23 letter to the Vancouver Island Health Authority's Needle 
Exchange Advisory Committee, a group calling itself SOLID -- Society 
for Living Intravenous Drug Users -- said a proposed site on Princess 
Street was inappropriate. No address was given.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Times Colonist, said 
the area is known to drug users as "extremely dangerous and violent 
due to street gang activity," and any attempt at extra policing would 
only scare away needle-exchange clients.

SOLID, listed as a member of the Needle Exchange Advisory Committee, 
also said that the site was too far from downtown services, buildings 
were badly maintained and unsuitable for a health service and current 
tenants would have to be displaced.

The letter argues 941 Pandora Ave., the site of the old St. John's 
Ambulance Society, is still the best site for a needle exchange.

But Shannon Turner, chairwoman of the Needle Exchange Advisory 
Committee, said the Pandora Avenue location is no longer an option, 
largely because of community objections.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority dropped that building from 
consideration in March 2008 after an outcry from the community, 
including parents and officials at St. Andrew's School on Pandora 
Avenue, kitty corner to the St. John's Ambulance building.

"Given what we heard from the larger community, that [site] would be 
problematic," said Turner, who serves as director of public health 
for the health authority.

She would not reveal the address of the Princess Street site. But she 
confirmed the existence of the letter and said the health authority 
has identified one possible site for a fixed needle exchange.

Turner said a meeting with members of SOLID to address their concerns 
is planned early this month.

The Needle Exchange Advisory Committee was formed in the months 
following the decision to abandon the Pandora Avenue site, and 
includes representatives of the business community, drug users, 
social agencies, police, the city and others.

While it won't make the final decision on a needle exchange, it's 
expected to provide input to the Island's chief medical health officer.

Turner said a fixed site is a missing piece from Victoria's 
harm-reduction efforts for illicit drug users, which now include 
mobile needle exchanges and some pharmacies. The more options for 
access, the more likely people will be better served, she said. 
"People will have multiple access points so access is not a barrier."

The issue of a fixed needle-exchange site has long been contentious 
in Victoria.

The previous fixed exchange on Cormorant Street ran for about six 
years before being evicted by its landlord in May 2008 after repeated 
complaints from neighbours about discarded needles, bloody refuse, 
discarded condoms and human excrement.

In June, a group calling itself Harm Reduction Victoria opened a 
"guerrilla" needle exchange, handing out needles in the 900 block of 
Pandora Avenue, near St. Andrew's School. The move was a violation of 
a voluntary undertaking to keep needle-exchange activities away from 
schools, and was condemned by many now participating on the Needle 
Exchange Advisory Committee.
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