THUNDER BAY – A commitment of ongoing funding has helped alleviate uncertainty about the future of the consumption and treatment services site in Thunder Bay.
The site, operated by NorWest Community Health Centres at its Simpson Street facility, started last November with temporary approval from the Progressive Conservative provincial government after its initial opening was paused. Once finally operational, the site received a number of short-term extensions through next March while the province conducted a service model review.
NorWest Community Health Centres chief executive officer Juanita Lawson said the province has committed to provide ongoing base funding for the program, which takes away concerns about the site facing a future shut down date.
That continuity has allowed the organization to stabilize staffing, which in turn helps those working directly with clients to build relationships, Lawson said.
“They know what that individual needs. They can help move them into other parts of the organization or community they need, whether it’s housing, access to legal aid, identification, support financially, medical care or access to treatment services and potentially even using some of the services we have here,” Lawson said on Tuesday.
“They know the nuances of what that individual’s life is like.”
While utilization rates were slow in the early days, more people have been using the service.
Lawson said the site had 466 visits in August, which is the highest number since it has been in operation.
“We have seen a really steady increase since March, April, May and June,” Lawson said. “We see these ebbs and flows in terms of utilization numbers on a day-to-day basis. Part of that is around the supply but also it’s about when people have access to money and resources.”
In June, the sites were still awaiting provincial funding but Lawson said that money has now been received and was complimentary of support provided by the Ministry of Health.
The site can currently accommodate two people at a time, but Lawson said there is a plan in place to double the capacity. As well, hours will be expanded beginning next week and the site is expected to be open on weekends starting in October.
“It’s a good sign that people are feeling it’s a place they can come and there is safety there,” Lawson said.
“With the overdoses that are happening and emergency medical services still responding to a fair number in our community, we still know we have work to do. I think expanding to the Saturday and Sunday we’ll be able to have more opportunity to engage with individuals.”