A pair of heroin users inject the drug at a pop-up safe injection site in Whalley.

Pop-up safe injection site sets up in Whalley

Organization representing Surrey drug users say the move by a Vancouver group could derail push to bring in permanent facility.

A makeshift safe injection site has been set up in North Surrey, raising the ire of local organizations that are trying to create a permanent facility in Surrey.

On Wednesday, a volunteer with a Vancouver support group for drug users set up a table on 135A Street to give people a safe place to inject their drugs.

Ann Livingston, a longtime volunteer with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), said she was motivated to bring the safe injection site to Surrey for several reasons.

The first is the fact Surrey experienced 43 overdoses over one weekend earlier this month.

Adding to the risk is July 27 is welfare cheque day for many people. Drug use, Livingston noted, usually spikes around those days.

Livingston said the creation of the safe injection site also served to further the conversation around need.

“It’s a matter of pushing, I think, to make people see that it’s not a complicated thing,” Livingston told The Leader Wednesday.

She said Surrey RCMP and city bylaw officers had comeby  “two or three times” by noon on Wednesday, and no one had asked her to take it down as of that time.

“They were all here when we came,” Livingston said.

Ron Moloughney, president of the Surrey Area Network of Substance Users (SANSU), is not pleased with the VANDU approach.

SANSU, which as 286 local members, has been working with the city and the Fraser Health Authority to locate a safe injection site in Surrey.

VANDU’s impromptu pop-up site could serve as a setback to those discussions, he said.

“I’d like to see a safe injection site, but not the way they’re doing it, that’s just bulldogging,” Moloughney said, adding he expects they would be shut down by 3 p.m.

Livingston said everyone she’s met was very friendly to the project and she had no closure time in mind.

The pop-up safe injection site comes on the heels of a call by Fraser Health to create “safe consumption sites” in the region.

That call came right after the health authority reported there were 43 drug overdoses over the weekend of July 16 and 17.

Until now, Surrey has strenuously argued against the idea of safe injection sites in the city.

Mayor Linda Hepner has recently softened her position somewhat, telling The Leader on July 19 that it was time to look at safe consumption sites.

Unlike Vancouver, she said, it would be part of another structure, not a stand-alone facility.

“Is there a space within the vulnerable population, say a shelter, where we could have what I would call a ‘safe consumption site?’ ” Hepner asked, adding it would include those who are injecting drugs.

“Some element of safety and consumption has got to happen, or we’re going to see a lot of…  I mean, we are lucky there are no deaths so far,” Hepner said.

Moloughney warned the pop-up site could frustrate discussions with Fraser Health.

“We’re in the midst of negotiations and trying to figure out how to best address the problem,” Moloughney said. “They’re coming down here and just doing it and the way they’re doing it is not safe.”

He said clients need privacy and also require the attendance of a nurse and doctor in a sterile environment, which is not what is occurring in Whalley.

“We don’t approve of it at all,” Moloughney said. “They just show up and say they want to do an injection site. That’s wrong.”