Jen Glasgo and Christina Zaganas are quiet heroes of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. They both work at North America’s only legalized injection site and the topic of much controversy. Insite is both a safe haven for addicts to inject with clean needles and a place that one can begin the long and hard road to recovery through detox with the support of medical specialists and social workers. To some, Insite promotes the use of heroin, and other narcotics, but to the staff and members of the community that use it – it saves lives. Operating seven days a week Insite consistently opens its doors at 10AM to a line-up of users twitching for their morning fix. Away from dirty alleys and dangerous dark corners, addicts can inject safely under the supervision of nurses. Although Vancouver Mayor, Gregor Robertson (as well as several past mayors) believe that Insite plays a vital role in helping the citizens of East Hastings and neighbourhood, Stephen Harper wants to shut the doors calling it an “abomination”. In any given day Insite is frequented by 600 – 1200 users and this is directly linked to the prevention of HIV.
Jen and Christina – we tip our hat to you.
Watch video on nurses rallying for support to keep Insite open:
To learn more:
What does a typical Thursday look like for you?
Jen: Typically, I get woken up at 5am when my husband gets up for work and says
goodbye for the day. I wake up around 8 or 8:30 and immediately hit the
shower. I put the plug back in the tub and add some water for my finicky cat
who will only drink from there. Make a quick breakfast of fruit or oatmeal,
take a bunch of vitamins, get dressed, grab something for lunch, say goodbye
to the cat and head to the Skytrain to get to work. After a 20 minute ride
on the train I stop at the local community coffee shop and grab a decaf, say
my hello’s to the coffee shop girls and head down Hastings Street to Insite.
Log into the computers, set up the chairs in the waiting room and the
injection room and then ditch my lunch in the back office and head to floor
to start work. Everyday is different at Insite as there are essentially
three different jobs to do on the floor that we share on a team of five.
Generally I start at the front desk signing people in, running the needle
exchange and checking people in for the detox that runs upstairs. It can be
quite hectic at the front desk, but the high paced environment works well
for me. The front desk allows me to initially meet participants, and start
building relationships with them. It means a lot when I can remember each
participant’s name, and it shows. The key to this job is creating positive
relationships with each person that walks in; it may be the only chat they
have in a day.
I move on to the injection room after a few hours of working the front desk,
and grab a big pair of black rubber gloves. In the injection room, we clean
the booths of those who have finished using, watch to make sure everyone is
injecting safely, and work with the nurses during any emergencies. I share
some laughs with my co-workers, fight over the music played and have some
wholesome chats with the participants of the site.
The third job involves working in the Chill Out Lounge, an area for
participants to relax and calm themselves down after using. I provide coffee
and juice, change the channels of the radio and try to build relationships
with the participants. I’ll hear about Johnny’s new home, or how Billy has
just been evicted from his; along with many more stories.
I finish work, say my goodbyes and head to the train home. I walk halfway,
to get a bit of exercise in. I meet my husband and my roomate, share some
dinner and catch up on the day. We’ll watch some media on the computer and
head to bed to do the whole thing over again.
Christina: Considering I work in a variety of Vancouver Eastside organizations, including but not limited to:
-Insite (the safe injection site)
– Onsite (detox and transitional housing)
-CTCT (community transitional care team)
-New Fountain Emergency Shelter
…there is no typical Thursday.
I walk or bike to work, and spend each day experiencing something different:
meeting new people, building relationships, figuring out ways to help our clients whether it be something simple as lending an ear or assisting them in making major changes in their. Such changes may include finding housing, going back to school or entering a detox program.
Typically, I’ll spend between 9-12 hours on the job and then I’ll go home & study, go for a run, or eat & go to sleep!
What was your first job out of high school?
Jen: I worked at a gas station in New Brunswick while I went to University. Nothing too exciting, I didn’t get involved in any human service work until I was 22.
Christina: I think my first job out of high school was serving at a 24hr café. I learned some very important skills which you will read about in question #3!
What are three skills you need most to do your job?
listening skills – most people just need to be heard
ability to see the big picture & put things in perspective
What do you love most about your career?
Jen: I love every aspect of the job. I tell many people the reason I moved to
Vancouver was to work at Insite – I had seen a video of the Downtown
Eastside and fell in love. It’s hard to articulate what exactly it is; the
community, the people, the knowledge held and shared, the protection…
everything. I have never seen or felt a community as strong as the Downtown
Eastside, and knowing that what I am doing is providing a really important
service is amazing for me. I love that I can walk down Hastings Street and
almost everyone knows me. When a participant knows my name, seeks me out to
help them with certain issues, and goes out of their way to catch up on
what’s going on; it grounds me.
Christina: My career keeps me in touch with reality and it never ceases to amaze me that kindness, hope and wisdom can be found in the most unlikely places.
Do you have any warnings?
Jen: Sometimes when it gets really busy, or when working with a participant who is having a difficult time it is hard to remember what the purpose of my position is. In order to ensure you don’t take anything personally, make sure to have a solid "self-care" regime. Being balanced and rested is imperative to helping the population we deal with, without this, burnout is possible.
Christina: Know your limits and take time out when you really need it.
If you could try a different career, what would you do?
Jen: I would love to travel for a year and write about it. Backpacking around far off countries and writing for a journal or magazine about my experiences would be amazing!
Christina: I just finished school to be a paramedic, so I’m trying that out right now… so far so good. I think I have two of the best jobs ever!