A pilot project bringing needle vending machines to Ottawa streets is proving to be quite popular.

According to Ottawa Public Health, the four harm reduction units have seen more than 300 service encounters, with more than 600 needles dispensed and more than 250 stems (for smoking drugs) dispensed since mid-September.

The unit outside Ottawa Public Health's Clarence Street facility has seen the highest usage with 245 total service encounters.

"The client feedback has been very good, with clients reporting that the machine provides access to harm reduction supplies when other services are closed and that the machines are easy to use," said Donna Casey, a communications official with OPH in a statement.

The harm reduction units, or needle vending machines, were installed in mid-September outside the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, the Somerset West Community Health Centre, the Carlington Community Health Centre and the Ottawa Public Health Site Needle and Syringe Program on Clarence Street. 

John Becvar is a harm reduction outreach worker at the Somerset West Community Health Centre. He says there were some mechanical issues when the machines were first installed but since that has cleared up clients have provided positive feedback. 

"We have been able to reach people that we could never reach before," Becvar said. "People that might be stigmatized and wouldn't normally come in, can get these tokens and get stuff when they need it." 

To prevent supplies from getting into the wrong hands Ottawa Public Health requires drug users to obtain special tokens through its harm prevention program. When people access services for a token they will also be provided with education about safer drug use, safe equipment disposal and offered information about other health, social and treatment services available, according to Ottawa Public Health. The tokens will be good at any of the dispensing units. 

"It's an ability for people to get supplies at any time of the night or during the day, before we open, or when they are unable to access other harm reduction distribution programs," Becvar said. 

The vending machines are part of a pilot project to provide clean needles, pipes and other items to drug users in Ottawa. The supplies will be available to drug users twenty-four hours a day. Right now the supplies can be obtained from inside the health centres during regular business hours.

Laura MacDonald has lived in the ByWard Market for ten years without any major incidents and said the last few weeks have been brutal. 

"More crimes, more vandalism, more people are dealing drugs, there is more prostitution," said MacDonald. "More things that you wouldn't see on a regular basis are happening now daily."

MacDonald said she doesn't know what has caused the spike of incidents, but she is now keeping track. MacDonald has called 3-1-1 or police at least 13 times so far this month for anything from finding a box of open needles outside her lawn to finding people shooting up on her doorstep.

"The last couple of months with these safe injection sites here have brought in new people and its just, there are a lot of new faces we haven't seen around here," she said. 

The city's health committee will vote tomorrow on whether the city's Clarence Street supervised injection site should be upgraded from temporary to permanent. MacDonald hopes the committee listens to residents and their concerns. 

"There are alreayd several other places they can go," she said. "I don't think it needs to be there."

The goal is to reduce the transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.