The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre conducted research to better understand what has led to decreased safety and sense of safety in downtown Ottawa for people who use drugs, organizations that work with them and local neighbourhoods that provide services to them. 

This project was done in two phases. It took more than two years to complete because the COVID-19 pandemic affected our capacity to lead the project. Also, we needed more time to make sure that shelters and services, as well as people who use drugs, could take part.

In Phase 1, we consulted with service providers who identified projects they were working on in response to the safety concerns of staff, clients and the community. These discussions helped us develop the survey for Phase 2, which involved surveying people who use drugs.

The research team at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre:

  • Used a more emergent design strategy (adapting to new ideas during the research phase) to decide on the projects to do
  • Addressed key aspects of the project as opportunities came up
  • Moved the consultation of people who use drugs to year 2 of the project
  • Drew on recent community meetings to identify key themes

In the first year (Phase 1), we identified actions that looked promising. Our organization and community are now working on initiatives that we think will help to ease the challenges of offering downtown services for people who use drugs, neighbours, staff and service providers.

In the second year (Phase 2), we created an advisory group of people who use drugs who have been marginalized.

They helped us to create and carry out a survey of people who use drugs to get their ideas and feedback.

We also created a short interview guide for agency staff. The guide was used to get input on staff safety and the safety of people who use drugs who access these services.

Learn more about Sandy Hill Community Health Centre programs here: This report was published in April 2022 by the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.