Demand for transitional housing grows as opioid overdose deaths increase

2020 hit record high for overdoses in Windsor-Essex County

CBC News · Posted: May 10, 2021 2:14 PM ET | Last Updated: May 11

“We’re trying to be the in-between, somewhere you can go before you go into a residential treatment centre,” says Robert Sandwith, Co-Director of Hand in Hand Support. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC Windsor)

As the number of overdoses and deaths hit record highs last year in Windsor-Essex, calls for spots in transitional housing units have also risen. 

Robert Sandwith, co-director for Hand in Hand Support, said he receives calls for places in the homes from across the country daily. 

Hand in Hand Support is a transitional home, offering housing to those who are seeking help for their addiction but struggling to find a spot in a rehab centre. 

“When people are trying to get into programs, it can take up to six months to get into a treatment centre, so we’re trying to be the ‘in-between’, somewhere you can go before you go to a residential treatment centre,” Sandwith said.

Hand in Hand Support originally had a launch date set for May 1 but due to the demand for services, the home opened on March 17. Two transitional homes have now been filled at full capacity as well as a transitional home for women currently at full capacity. 

One of three transitional homes offering housing to those seeking help for their addiction. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC Windsor )

The home has partnered with a number of organizations including Recovery Education for Addiction and Complex Trauma, Canadian Mental Health Association and Freedom Church of Windsor. 

“We don’t want to re-invent the wheel. We just want to be the door that opens up to say we want to work with everybody and anybody that is helping the people in a responsible way,” Sandwith said.

2020 record high overdoses 

In Windsor-Essex, there were 348 overdoses last year, compared with 249 in 2019.

Last year, 64 lives were lost to opioid overdoses, compared with 48 the previous year.

The record toll comes amid a pandemic that the top doctor in Windsor-Essex said has especially affected those with substance use and mental health disorders.

“It’s a troubling trend,” said Dr. Wajid Ahmed, medical officer of health, who presented the new data on overdoses on Monday.

Windsor-Essex’s rate of opioid-related deaths is roughly on par with the provincial average, but the worsening of opiod deaths was a trend in most parts of the province.

All but a handful of Ontario’s 31 public health units saw the number of fatalities increase in 2020 year over year, according to the preliminary figures.

Naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses, is seen in a file photo. According to public health in Windsor-Essex, 64 people lost their lives to opioid overdoses in 2020. (Christine Rankin/CBC News)

Both the death toll and annual number of overdoses are higher than any recorded in the 14 years of data compiled.

Fentanyl was the most common drug involved in the opioid overdoses recorded locally, the data showed.

Pandemic ‘complicating things’

Deaths and overdoses had been on an upward trend years before the pandemic hit due to the opioid crisis.

But Ahmed suggested COVID-19 could be “complicating things further, leading to more overdoses, especially in our region.”

So far this year, there have been seven overdose alerts issued by the Windsor-Essex Community Overdose and Substance Strategy (WECOSS).

There were 16 overdoses between April 26 and May 2 alone, WECOSS said.

Sandwith said he knows of 50 people lost to overdose deaths in the last two years.

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s more of a motivation though to keep on working at this,” he said. “Our motto is just to show up.”