Residents smoking fentanyl creates issues at Victoria housing facility

Residents smoking fentanyl creates issues at Victoria housing facility
The Tally Ho supportive housing building is shown.

While the inside of the Tally Ho supportive housing building in Victoria may look unremarkable, it’s what you can’t see that’s causing concerns.

Air quality testing found unacceptable levels of illicit substances, including fentanyl, in the air. It’s an issue that operators say is putting staff at risk.

One resident, who gave his name as Clay R., admits he does smoke fentanyl in his room.

“I can, I do. But I’m not running around smoking it blatantly,” he told CHEK News on Friday.

Clay says other residents smoke as well.

It’s that smoke that is causing problems for staff, and others working at the building, according to Don McTavish, director of housing and shelters for the Victoria Cool Aid Society.

“When we have staff reporting symptoms like headaches or vomiting or what have you, we started to wonder,” McTavish said on Thursday.

Cool Aid sent a letter to residents of the Tally Ho informing them of the results of the testing, which found “unacceptable living and working amounts of illicit substances caused by persistent smoking in and around the building.”

That’s why a fence is now surrounding the building, keeping everyone except staff and residents away in an effort to reduce the exposure to smoke.

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The Tally Ho supportive housing building is pictured on Nov. 24, 2023. (CHEK News)

That measure has some who live here concerned that people will be encouraged to use alone, putting them at higher risk of overdose.

“Because people will not have friends, or anybody. Because that’s when people die. Ninety-percent of the time it’s a friend or family member that is there to administer Narcan,” Clay said.

BC United MLA Elenore Sturko says there needs to be greater protective measures for staff working in areas like supportive housing.

“In asking them to do this incredible work for the province, they should have incredible protection. And it’s certainly not being given to them right now,” Sturko said.

In a statement, WorkSafeBC says employers must take steps to protect their workers from exposure to secondhand smoke, whether from unregulated drugs or any other source.

Staff will be now be required to wear respirators, and any residents found to be smoking in their rooms will be evicted.

The union representing Tally Ho staff, the BC Government Employees Union, issued a statement Friday afternoon saying:

“Like most OHS initiatives, at Tally Ho our members were the first to flag concerns about the air-quality and push for a real solution. They flooded their employer and WorkSafe BC with critical incidents reports, grew activist networks, worked through their joint OHS committees, and alerted BCGEU to the problem. As a result, Victoria Cool Aid Society took responsibility, did their due diligence, and conducted tests, in addition to other mitigation efforts, including the promise of a new ventilation system. Now our members have the protective gear that they need in the interim to keep protecting residents and providing critical harm reduction services.”

“But this is only the first step: supportive housing also needs better building design, and more robust resources for frontline workers and residents. Everything can’t fall on our members, who themselves often come from the vulnerable communities that they support. Our members are also incredibly dedicated to their work, and we’re confident that Cool Aid can lead the way if they continue to listen to the frontlines.”

WATCH: Tally Ho housing facility found to have ‘unacceptable’ amounts of illicit substances in the air

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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