On March 25, 2019, Jeff Hay, a public relations student, got a devastating phone call while at work. His little brother Tyler, 22, had passed away from a fentanyl overdose – Ottawa’s fifth that day.

Ottawa Inner City Health reached out to Hay and sent resources to his family following the death of his brother. The organization was present at Tyler’s funeral and it held a Naloxone training and memorial concert, which brought the community together to honour his life.

“It was a no-brainer,” Hay said about his decision to pitch Ottawa Inner City Health as the recipient of the funds for the public relations program’s level-two fundraiser. His story inspired his classmates to get on board with supporting this organization.

Called the Courage to Care campaign, their goal was to raise $30,000 which would go towards the expansion of the facility: from a small trailer to its own space within the Shepherds of Good Hope building.

The events were postponed when the COVID-19 pandemic had every non-essential business in Ottawa temporarily close its doors and every person in the city social distancing and isolating. Venues that were to host the fundraising events are currently not operating. Orders from Ottawa Public Health also forbade people from gathering in groups. All face-to-face classes and labs were suspended at every Algonquin campus. For the remainder of the semester, classes are being conducted online and all events have been cancelled.

Although the campaign will not happen this term, the project’s rationale is still alive as it is currently an important time to support OICH.

“It’s really important for me to give back and try to help people that are going through problematic usage to seek the help they need,” Hay said after a press conference announcing the events on March 12. “So I’m excited to raise money for OICH.”

The plan is on hold, but OICH is currently accepting donations via their website in support of their hard work during this health crisis. The expansion of the centre is still relevant and needed as the homeless community is at risk during a health crisis. They do not have the ability to self-isolate in busy shelters.

At present, there are 13 supervised consumption booths at the trailer, Hay explained. At the back there is a nurses’ station with medical supplies.

“But the gap between the last booth and the medical supply station is 31 inches,” he said. “If someone overdoses and falls out in that area, people literally have to step over them to give help.”

Hay explained that the facility has nurses on 24/7 and peer-support workers, who have gone through recovery themselves, to help clients at the trailer.

“When people go down and overdose, they have no room, they end up under the tables in the booths and nurses have to drag them out to administer oxygen or Naloxone.”

On Friday March 13, just before the city-wide cancellations due to COVID-19 were announced, the public relations students were asked to gather in their homeroom to discuss how the COVID-19 crisis would affect their Courage to Care campaign.

“We had spent the better part of the semester promoting, working with sponsors and planning,” Hay said. “Our first event was a day away from launching.”

Later that afternoon, they were told their campaign was going to be postponed.

“It was heartbreaking, not being able to help raise funds as a health crisis loomed was tough,” Hay said.

After leaving what turned out to be their last class this semester, members of the public relations program gathered and took a group photo wearing their Courage to Care shirts, to celebrate their hard work.

Supplied by Jeff Hay
ACPR students wearing the Courage to Care campaign shirts.

We will be moving our campaign to the fall semester and will be hosting five events to raise money for OICH,” Gray Brohm, first-year public relations student said.

Ottawa Inner City Health has an assessment van that goes to shelters to assist anyone from the vulnerable community that is showing symptoms of COVID-19. They have opened an isolation unit and are sharing updates on their Facebook page.

“Looking back, as tough of a call it was to make, it was the right one,” Hay said. “Our professors are as invested in the fundraising campaign as we are, they did not want to risk the health of potential guests, staff or students.”

Their website couragetocare.ca will offer more information in the coming months.