Carmel Barker (left) is a client at ETHP’s Oakridge Health and Harm Reduction Hub, where she sees Dr. Leonard Bienenstock, addictions physician and founder at Comprehensive Treatment Clinic.
Carmel Barker was on a stroll with a friend one late afternoon last February when a sign pulled them from their usual route through the southwest Scarborough neighbourhood of Oakridge.
Plastered outside the entrance of the Hub at Warden Woods Community Centre (WWCC), the sign read, in large black letters, Oakridge Health and Harm Reduction Hub.
“We have addictions,” Carmel says. “So the fact that there was this space right in our neighbourhood that was going to help us access addictions resources — that’s what appealed to us.”
Carmel, who lives a short walk from WWCC, would go on to visit the Oakridge Health and Harm Reduction Hub almost every day for the next month.
Launched in February 2020 as a pilot initiative by East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP), the Ontario Health Team (OHT) serving East Toronto, with support from Michael Garron Hospital (MGH), the multi-service centre is designed to be a safe space and one-stop shop for health care for people who use substances.
It offers a range of services, including harm reduction, counselling, peer support and case management, from an inter-professional team representing nine health care and social services organizations in East Toronto: Agincourt Community Services Association (ACSA), Comprehensive Treatment Clinic (CTC), Cota Health (Cota), MGH, Providence Healthcare (Unity Health Toronto), St. Michael’s Homes, South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC), the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (TC LHIN) and WWCC.
In addition to their clinical duties, staff at the Hub help clients navigate community and social services such as resources for housing, food security and transportation.
It was set up with the goal of increasing access to substance use services in the Oakridge neighbourhood with a long-term goal of reducing the need for emergency services related to overdoses.
This addresses data from emergency medical services and MGH’s Emergency Department (ED) that identifies a high number of crisis situations related to substance use among residents of the Oakridge and Warden Woods areas.
“The space is made up of a number of organizations within the community,” says Leah Dunbar, project manager of the Toronto mobile crisis intervention team (MCIT) program who was project manager of the Hub at the time of its launch.
“This means our clients don’t have to navigate multiple providers or leave their neighbourhood to access the services they need. We’re eliminating these barriers and coming to them.”
Prior to the pandemic, the Hub became “a place to hang out” for Carmel.
In addition to appointments with Dr. Leonard Bienenstock, addictions physician and founder at CTC, Carmel says she enjoyed spending time in the Hub’s common area which offered a place for clients to relax, engage with staff or chat with others.
Carmel says she participated in peer groups and informational sessions at the Hub, including one that provided clients with naloxone training.
“The staff made me feel really comfortable,” she says. “They don’t judge you in any way. I really appreciated that.”