The province was ready to help Overdose Prevention Ottawa as temperatures drop. The city said no.
One organizer called the news "a literal slap in the face."
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Volunteers with Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO), their supporters and a number of city councillors are frustrated and confused after the city refused an offer of provincial support.
The province’s Emergency Management Assistance Team had offered OPO a heater, portable generator and tent, but according to Minister Eric Hoskins, that offer was declined by the City of Ottawa on Friday.
That drew outrage from OPO volunteers. “It’s a literal slap in the face for us,” said Leila Attar, an OPO organizer. “For 60 or 70 days we’ve been operating in absolutely unacceptable conditions to be providing service in a health crisis.”
In recent weeks, plunging temperatures have caused problems for the group. In order to keep their naloxone supplies at an appropriate temperature, the group has been forced to rely on disposable heat packs stuffed into a lunchbox, or keeping them in a running car.
“Half of the people can’t feel their hands when they’re volunteering,” said Attar. “We need the help.”
A number of city councillors were equally surprised by the decision.
Coun. Jeff Leiper was one of four councillors who signed a letter in late September calling for a transition plan for the site, but Ottawa Public Health decided not to act on that suggestion. The result, he said, was that the decision to reject provincial assistance was made without council’s blessing.
“Had we done that work a month ago, and come up with a transition plan,” said Leiper, “then we would have had some basis upon which to say yes or no.”
In a statement provided by his press secretary, Watson said he “is focused on the funding needs of the three local agencies that are working with the province and the Government of Canada to set up sanctioned supervised injection sites.” He did not provide a direct answer as to why he declined provincial assistance.
“It’s not easy to pull council together to make a decision quickly, but it would have been the appropriate decision to make,” said Leiper. He said that he was in talks with other councillors, and may raise the issue at an upcoming council meeting.