Senior Program Manager, PHS Community Services Society
Darwin Fisher is on the front lines battling the crisis of drug addiction. He manages Insite, the first safe injection site in North America.
Insite, which opened its doors in September 2003, is located in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver BC, one of the poorest urban areas in North America. Since the late 1980s, the DTES has seen high rates of intravenous drug use, overdose fatalities, and disease transmission. Insite was opened as part of a broad harm-reduction-based approach to these issues. It’s a facility where people who use drugs can inject under supervision and also a place where folks can access medical care, treatment services, and even employment.
He and his colleagues serve a highly challenging and marginalized client population, frequently considered too difficult or intransigent for most services providers to address. Many folks who use Insite have multiple barriers that prevent them from accessing health, housing, and social services. These barriers include homelessness, past and daily trauma, poverty, mental illness, extreme grief, social and cultural dislocation, frequent incarceration, loss of children and family, physical ailments and chaotic lifestyles, in addition to their substance issues. Insite’s goal is to reach out to marginalized, street-entrenched, ‘hard-to-serve’ IV drug users, build bridges for participants to access healthcare, housing, treatment and other social services, and to prevent both the spread of blood-borne diseases and death.
Fisher started working at Insite in 2004 on behalf of the PHS Community Services Society, a socially active not-for-profit that works with and for Vancouver’s poorest citizens. In addition to co-managing Insite, PHS runs many units of low-barrier housing, low-threshold clinical services, and cultural services in the DTES. They even run a bank for folks who can’t get accounts elsewhere. The organization operates from a deep commitment to tolerance, harm reduction, and the value of relationships.