Sense of direction

Direction 180, the methadone clinic on the south end of Gottingen, marks its five-year anniversary this week. Lis van Berkel checks in.

Turn around time Mary Lou Roche, nurse and clinical coordinator at Direction 180. photo Darryl James

Leaning over the counter at Direction 180, a man tells a nurse he dreamed she was rocking a baby inside a church. “I think I’m the baby in the dream, and you were saving me and comforting me,” he tells her. “You look after us guys like a mother would. And besides, coming here every day feels kinda like going to church to me.” Then he shrugs, finishes off his methadone and walks away, leaving the veteran care provider humbled and close to tears.

It’s an unusual exchange at Halifax’s only methadone clinic, a tough environment where staff and drug addicts—some trying to go straight, some fulfilling a parole requirement, some with veins so shot they can’t shoot up anymore—can wind up butting heads.

And it might be one of the stories told at Direction 180’s fifth anniversary celebration being held today, June 29th, an event featuring testimonials from clients and staff, as well as tours, a smudging purification ceremony by the Kitpu Youth Drummers, entertainment by musician Sam Moon and a local documentary screening.

One gets the impression that the mint green walls in Mary Lou Roche’s office have heard a thousand stories—or at least 120, the number of clients that currently use Direction 180, most of whom are men. That’s “far over” the number the facility is funded to serve, and four times the number they assisted in 2001. Some of the originals have “graduated,” others have died, says Roche.

“It was named by a client who came in one day and just said, ‘My life has done a 180 because of this,’” recalls the nurse, who is also the centre’s clinical coordinator. “Not a 360, which would put you right back where you started, but 180 degrees.”

Five years ago, only one nurse worked at Direction 180. Now there are eight, all part-time, as well as other staff and services: physician John Fraser, who comes in several mornings per week; a community mental health nurse, who speeds up the process of getting patients a psychiatric appointment; peer counsellors; a dietician; Narcotics Anonymous meetings; on-site eye appointments and, says Roche, possibly the only non-hospital-based Hepatitis C treatment facility in Canada.

Housing advocacy is also part of “harm reduction” at the clinic—that’s what their range of services are called by government agencies like the Capital District Health Authority, Direction 180’s primary funder. And that’s why Direction 180’s next project won’t be a safe injection site like the one raising public ire in Vancouver. Not because it wouldn’t be used, says Roche, but because public money would be better spent on safe affordable housing for her clients.

Direction 180 started up in the offices of Cornwallis Street’s Mainline, around the corner from its current cobalt blue facade on Gottingen. Diane Bailey, a recovered addict who’s been the director of Mainline for 10 years, says Direction 180 was born of a need identified by several organizations then operating in the area: the Persons With AIDS Coalition, Corrections Canada, Stepping Stone, the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre and the North End Community Health Clinic.

It has a “great relationship” with the drugstore just down the street, which prepares the 100cc methadone doses, says Roche, and the Friendship Centre is hosting Thursday’s celebration. Even Bob Trenaman, co-owner of Bob and Lori’s Food Emporium—who has gone on the record with his fears about needles left in his bathroom—has offered up snacks for the event.

At the same time, Trenaman says he’d prefer if Direction 180 moved off Gottingen and delivered its services out of a hospital.

“Because at 7:30am, there are 20 young fellows standing on the corner,” says Trenaman. “You just never know what’s going to happen—when you’re going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

But methadone can’t be effectively delivered from a hospital, says Roche: “If your hair is not washed, if your clothes are not clean, think you’re there for drug stealing behaviour—and some are, but not many.”

Direction 180’s fifth anniversary celebrations run from noon until 4pm, at the Micmac Native Friendship Centre, at 2158 Gottingen Street on Thursday, June 29.

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