Protesters set up mock overdose prevention site outside Windsor city hall

Protesters set up mock overdose prevention site outside Windsor city hall
Windsor Overdose Prevention Society hosting rally in support of prevention site
Protesters demanding Windsor allow an overdose prevention site set up a mock station outside city hall on Friday, complete with syringes and meth pipes.

“We’re not asking to do anything wrong here,” said Brandon Bailey, a recovering addict and member of the Windsor Overdose Prevention Society.

Its easy for the chief or anyone else to say other people wont use it but if you asked the people who are out here that are using drugs or you ask a lot of people at home, when they have a safe judgement-free zone, theyre all saying that they would, said Bailey. Maybe we should start asking the people that we are here to serve instead of making answers for them.

“A site like this is something that is a lifesaving service. It’s basically a first aid tent. All we’re asking is for the police to work with us and be able to let it happen, knowing that people are dying. This could be the difference between a life saved or not.”

About two dozen people showed up at the lunchtime rally, organized following four fatal overdoses within a 24-hour period earlier this month.

Members continue to push for an unsanctioned overdose prevention site in the city, saying there must be action now to ensure the most vulnerable people in the community have a location where they can be monitored for signs of an overdose.

Along with a bullhorn and handmade signs, rally organizers erected a fully-stocked and functional overdose prevention site in the shadow of city hall to give the public an idea of what one looks like.

Its not as simple as administering naloxone. Its the follow-up, the immediate emergency follow up to that person that required and we are not trained in that regard, said Frederick.

Set up under a tent, it consisted of tables lined with naloxone kits and all the tools needed to take heroin, crack and meth, except for the actual drugs.

The Windsor Overdose Prevention Society is comprised of former/active drug users, harm reduction workers, healthcare professionals, community members, researchers, and students.

“The only difference between that and an unsanctioned site you would have seen in Toronto or any other city where they’ve been set up is we’re not allowed to use ours,” said Bailey. “So the purpose of this rally is to bring together community support and be able to show people what a fully stocked site looks like.”

The society recently had a mock site set up outside Victoria Manor for about a week, but they removed it because neighbours complained. Bailey said a few people came by the tent asking if they could take drugs there.

Bailey said a safe injection site may have also saved the lives of four people who died of a suspected overdose two weekends ago.

“We told them they weren’t allowed,” he said. “It was definitely disheartening to have to say that to somebody knowing that they could have then walked from there to an alley and used, and they could have been dead at that point.”

Close to 50 people gathered at Windsor city hall to attend a rally Friday hosted by the Windsor Overdose Prevention Society.

“We were told by the Windsor police that if anybody was to use inside the tent that they would be arrested,” he said. “As well, they would arrest us for giving people a dwelling to be able to use.”

The longer it takes for him to change his stance, the more people are gonna die, said member Brandon Bailey.

Windsor police Chief Al Frederick has said he doesn’t support a legally sanctioned supervised injection centre, let alone an unsanctioned overdose prevention site.

Supervised injection sites have had “mixed results” in other cities, he said earlier this week.

Bailey was wearing a naloxone kit during Fridays rally and encourages residents to carry them as well.

“The results that I’ve been made aware of come from Toronto and Vancouver,” Frederick said. “The crime rate in the immediate vicinity around supervised injection sites have gone off the charts as far as increase in violent crime, property crime, that sort of thing.

“That’s not something that I want for our police service to deal with, or our community,” he added. “So I do not support them for that reason. In a 300-metre radius, crime rates in those other communities have gone up hundreds of per cent. That’s not something I endorse.”

Bailey said “that’s not true at all.” He cited several studies from existing sites in other cities showing the sites don’t cause even an uptick in crime.

“It does not increase crime at all,” said Bailey. “It usually stays about the same. It doesn’t decrease but it doesn’t increase. Anybody that says that, it’s more just a fear-based answer than it is a reality.”

Bailey, who said he’s faced the harsh reality of losing many friends to drug addiction, has suffered through his own share of overdoses.

“I’ve been there,” he said. “Luckily, I had friends watching for me that were able to make sure that I lived. If it wasn’t for those friends, then I wouldn’t be here either.

Not only does he think Windsor needs a supervised injection site, he believes there isn't enough time to wait for one to be approved. Instead, he would like there to be an overdose prevention site set up in the interim.

“Not everybody has those friends. A lot of times when we’re struggling with substance abuse we tend to push everybody away and we isolate. So at least with something like this, it’s a service for people,” he said.

A Canadian advocacy group of mothers whose children struggled or died because of drug addiction called on city hall to open an overdose prevention site in Windsor. The rally was organized by Windsor OPS.

“The response we’re getting from the community of people who use drugs is amazing. It’s sad to tell them that we can’t do it yet.”

She said she has been trying to help her son with his addiction for more than 10 years. He uses crystal meth and has been "going in and out of jail" for the last few years, she says. 

Supporters of having a drug overdose prevention site in Windsor to help prevent deaths are shown at a rally in front of city hall on Friday. Dan Janisse / Windsor Star

He also reaffirmed his commitment to not having police officers carry naloxone kits. The life-saving medication can temporarily block the effects of opioids and prevent overdose deaths.

Stephanie Van Watteghem holds up a sign near Windsor police officers during Fridays rally in front of city hall sponsored by the Windsor Overdose Prevention Society. Dan Janisse / Windsor Star

Whitehead said one of the things the group, which formed in Windsor last week, will be doing is to hand out naloxone kits and teach people how to use them.

A participant in a Windsor Overdose Prevention Society sponsored rally is shown in front of City Hall on Nov. 23, 2018. The gathering was held to show community support, and demonstrate the need, for an overdose prevention site in the city. Dan Janisse / Windsor Star

Overdose deaths have been climbing in recent years — killing nearly 4,000 Canadians in 2017 alone, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

On Friday November 23, 2018 at 12 noon, the Windsor Overdose Prevention Society will be hosting a rally to gain and to show community support for an unsanctioned Overdose Prevention Site in the city of Windsor. The rally will take place outside City Hall located at 350 City Hall Square.We will have a fully stocked and operational tent set up on location.

Within the last 2 weeks Windsor has lost at least 5 people to overdoses. We cant wait a year for a potential SIS. We must act now to ensure the most vulnerable people in our community have a location where they can be monitored for signs of an overdose.

The Windsor Overdose Prevention Society is comprised of former/active drug users, harm reduction workers, healthcare professionals, community members, researchers, and students. We simply want to prevent the death of people who use drugs. We need your support as fellow community members to show the city that an OPS is needed NOW! We must be allowed to operate without the threat of being deemed a criminal enterprise. Reversing overdoses to saves lives does not make us criminals!

The rally will take place outside city hall, we ask that if you are a community member and would like to show your support for the lives of fellow Windsorites lost to overdose, for people who are currently using drugs, and for those trying to prevent their death, to please be in attendance!