Mobile overdose prevention RV hitting the road with Manitoba government as funder for 1st time

Manitoba’s only mobile overdose prevention site is bringing the provincial government on board as a financial partner for the first time.

The province is providing $589,000 in funding to Sunshine House, which operates the overdose prevention RV, to entirely cover its operations for the remainder of the fiscal year, addictions minister Bernadette Smith said in question period Monday.

The arrangement is only for a year, as Sunshine House executive director Levi Foy said he anticipates the RV’s role in the community will shift once a dedicated supervised consumption site opens in Winnipeg in 2025. 

For now, Foy said he’s thrilled Sunshine House won’t have to scramble any longer to find money for its overdose prevention vehicle. The program’s funding was expiring this month, he said.

“It’s reassuring for starters, because we were getting pretty close to one of our doomsday scenarios of having to shut down or having to look at a volunteer-led service,” Foy said, “but the dialogue has been really great actually with the province, so we knew it was coming.”

Since the converted RV hit the road in October 2022, it has offered a safe place for people to use substances where they can also be supervised by staff trained in overdose response.

Harm reduction measure

The site also distributes harm reduction supplies, including clean needles and pipes, and tests drugs using a machine that analyzes chemical makeup.

In its first year of operation, street drugs were consumed more than 7,000 times in and around the RV, there were 20 overdoses and no deaths, according to a report Sunshine House commissioned.  

The drop-in and resource centre has often dealt with financial uncertainty.

Late last year, Sunshine House secured $250,000 from the Winnipeg Foundation, about $72,728 from an amendment to its existing funding agreement with Health Canada, as well as about $55,000 in grassroots funding, in order to operate through the winter. 

Foy said the NDP government, elected last October, assured Sunshine House it would come through with funding after that.

The interior of a converted RV, including a couch and a chair.
People who use drugs can do so inside the RV, where they also have access to clean needles, pipes, condoms and other harm reduction supplies. (Jérémie Bergeron/Radio-Canada)

He said his staff won’t have to dedicate a “large portion of their time” trying to drum up funding any longer for the RV. 

The former PC government opposed the consumption of drugs at an overdose prevention site. Sunshine House required a federation exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to get its harm reduction vehicle up and running.

Foy still envisions a place on the road for the RV once the supervised consumption site is ready, which the province said will be located in the area of north Main Street.

“We’re really hopeful that with a dedicated supervised consumption site, it will still allow us to provide services elsewhere in the city and then really help communities and neighbourhoods determine what their needs are going to be in the future around supervised consumption services.”

Some possible locations include the inner city, or any other neighbourhoods with a high population of lower-income people.

“Those are some ideas that we’ve built into our future forecasting.”