//K6 COVID-19 Info Centre
K6 & HAMSMaRT Weekly Newsletter no. 2
March 30, 2020
Dear HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six Supporters,
We hope people have made the best of this rainy weekend, and are finding ways to create joy in uncertain times. And if you haven’t – that’s ok too. Many of us are just trying to keep our heads above water. We have had a busy week! This is a LONG email, but if you just read the bolded sentences, you’ll get the main points.
We have opened up our schedule for new volunteers to join our efforts on outreach, bake sweet treats for bagged lunches being given out on outreach, and decorate the brown paper bags that lunches go in (GREAT family activity). If you want to join the volunteer crew, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Isolation sites run by the City of Hamilton with support from HAMSMaRT are ready to go if and when someone who is homeless tests positive for COVID-19. We had an overwhelming response from the medical community to volunteer for these. If you have volunteered and not heard anything, you are on an email list to contact when additional help is needed.
We put out a press release calling for urgent action from the City of Hamilton to care for people who are homeless and people who use drugs in COVID-19 by procuring hotel rooms for physical distancing, opening more indoor spaces for rest and hygiene, ensuring continued access to substances of dependence, stopping the policing of people who are homeless, and involving people with lived experience at decision making tables. The City responded and has stated they are working on hotel rooms, increased indoor spaces, and access to substances of dependence for people who are physically distancing or isolating. They have also invited Keeping Six members who use drugs to be part of the harm reduction planning tables. We will continue to keep pressure on the city to ensure they follow through on these promises.
We are grateful to have received a $10000 grant from the Hamilton Community Foundation as part of their Pandemic Response Fund. The funds will be used to directly support the people who need it most by providing gift cards and essential items to people who are unhoused or precariously housed. We will also use some of the funds to ensure that our organizing work can continue. As a group that consists of people with lived experience and on fixed incomes, we need to make sure we can all stay connected by providing internet and phones to those who don’t have them. This allows for the important physical distancing and the continued prioritizing of the leadership of people with lived experience.
We watched BC with great interest as they unveiled Safe Supply guidelines for prescribers as part of their response to the harms of the toxic illicit drug supply. Safe supply has been noted as particularly important in COVID-19 because of decreasing availability of street supply, lack of access to income generating activities (e.g. panhandling, bottle return, sex work), and need to provide options that can help facilitate physical distancing. The guidelines include explicit legal approval from the provincial government to prescribe safe supply, guidance on safe supply of opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants, and operation of a telephone consult service through the Vancouver Coastal Health Overdose Outreach Team for prescribers and pharmacists.
Outreach happened as planned three times this past week, with more than 600 lunches distributed. We continue to hear very similar themes on outreach around a lack of food service and that folks have nowhere to be, to distance, and to practice good hand washing, and will move to once weekly summaries. The new themes we are hearing are that people will not use isolation centres or physical distancing facilities if they cannot continue to use drugs and alcohol, and that people are being released from the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre aka the Barton jail with no plan for housing or medical care. We unequivocally support urgent mass release of people in prison to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prison, and also call for appropriate housing and medical support on release. To learn more about this, check out this article in The Halifax Examiner by poet and activist El Jones “Clearing Out the Jails”. And starting this coming week, we will have an on-call physician available for telemedicine during outreach.
Our arts coordinator extraordinaire, Kelly Wolf, has pushed us to think beyond meeting basic needs of food and shelter at this tumultuous time and asks how can we engage people creatively? As an organization that defends the humanity of PWUD we know that the desire to create and share stories is a very powerful creative outlet. The COVID-19 crisis shuttered our newly established art drop in and we are now taking that to the streets too! Starting this week, we will be adding arts outreach to our wagons: sketchbooks, pens and pencils to be distributed to any who would like. We will engage with the people we meet on the street as fellow humans, with their own stories, dreams and desires, beyond how they are perceived at a first glance. This project has the potential to document the COVID-19 crisis from a very particular point of view. If participants are interested, their contributions – stories or artwork – may form some of the content of our next quarterly zine – scheduled to print at the beginning of June. We are floating the title ‘Love in the Time of COVID-19’. We expect this edition will be quite an interesting one!
We will end each newsletter with a reflection on the knowledge that health is political and responses to pandemics are political. This week we are thinking about how gender based violence is shaped by the pandemic. One example is how people may be forced to physically distance themselves at home with other people who abuse them, causing a documented increase in violence against children and women. And gender based violence intersects with issues of poverty, homelessness, colonization, racism, and more. This highlights why it is important before and during times of crisis to understand the power structures that perpetuate harm, and act to build a world where people are free from violence and can determine health on their own terms.
ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE THIS WEEK:
VOLUNTEER to do outreach, bake sweet treats, or decorate brown paper bags for outreach lunches by emailing email@example.com.
DONATE CASH (or ask people in your network to donate) https://keepingsix.org/support/.
DONATE ITEMS warm hats, warm wool socks, warm mitts, juice boxes, pop, and/or groceries for baking, as requested by our bakers. If you can provide these, email us firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know, we need you!
DONATE WORKING ELECTRONICS As we anticipate the need to isolate in the shelter population, electronics for telemedicine consults and staving off boredom are needed. If you have an old, working laptop, tablet or smartphone, please be in touch at email@example.com to make arrangements for drop off or pick up.
AMPLIFY our messages on twitter @HAMSMaRTeam and @keepingsix and by forwarding this email, so that decision makers LISTEN to people who are homeless and/or who use drugs about what they need right now.
Organizers from Keeping Six and HAMSMaRT
March 24: K6 and HAMSMaRT call on the City of Hamilton to Immediately Open More Shelter Space in Hotels and Hygiene and Rest Centres for the Homeless Community.
K6 and HAMSMaRT call on the City of Hamilton to Immediately Open More Shelter Space in Hotels and Hygiene and Rest Centres for the Homeless Community.
March 24, 2020
Keeping Six – Hamilton Harm Reduction Action League and the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team are calling for the opening up of urgently needed hygiene and resting centres as well as more shelter space in hotels for the homeless community in Hamilton. This is a paramount and crucial piece in the efforts we are all taking on as a society to reduce the spread of COVID 19. It is also vital to ensure access to basic human needs during this crisis. We demand that the City of Hamilton:
- Immediately procure hotel rooms so that people who are in shelters or unhoused can practice physical distancing and PREVENT the spread of COVID-19
- Immediately open large indoor public spaces to allow for people to rest, eat, and practice hygiene while maintaining appropriate physical distancing
- Ensure people are able to continue using the substances they depend on no matter what setting they are in, in keeping with the principles and practice of harm reduction
- Do not police people for being homeless, including but not limited to not issuing tickets for loitering, and not enforcing no camping bylaws
- Guarantee people with lived experience of homelessness and/or drug use are at all decision making tables moving forward with respect to the City of Hamilton COVID-19 response as it affects people who are homeless and/or who use drugs
Last week in the wake of many services across the city shuttering or reducing their services to prevent the spread of COVID 19, K6 took to the streets to feed and connect with our friends and loved ones left behind by these sweeping public health measures. We heard over and over again that many of the services people rely upon have been shut down, people have nowhere to go to get warm, to eat, to use the washroom, or wash their hands. People need food and warmth and shelter. People are very worried about being isolated or quarantined and as a result being forced into withdrawal from opioids or alcohol. All of what we are hearing is of concern from a humanitarian standpoint, but also from an infection control perspective. People need space to spread out and stave off the spread of COVID 19 now! Yesterday, the Government of Ontario announced funding for municipalities to increase service to vulnerable people. In response to the calls of homeless people and their advocates, municipalities across the country and the world are opening up space in hotels. We think that strategy should and can be adopted here in Hamilton.
As health care providers who have participated in the COVID 19 planning, we know that everyone has been working tirelessly, under very short time lines, but this cannot wait any longer. If conditions for people to spread out are not created now, we fear that COVID 19 will spread like wildfire in the homeless population if and when it takes hold, As people who live and love people living on the street, we know this will have a devastating impact on those of us who already suffer from the ill effects of life on the street and will quickly overwhelm the healthcare system.
The baseline for the health of our community is the health of the poorest and the most marginalized. None of us can truly be healthy if we are not all afforded the opportunity to be healthy. As steeper measures are implemented to encourage and enforce physical distancing, we see an urgent need to provide the opportunity for people who can’t implement these measures to not be criminalized. We are calling on officials to do everything in their power to prevent this issue from becoming one of law and order. This means making it possible for people to distance and isolate.
Finally, we want to send an enormous shout out and thank you to all those who are on the front lines, health and social service and shelter workers. Also importantly grocery, retail and food service workers, sanitation and cleaning workers who are are being revealed as the backbone of the society that they have always been. We see you and we thank you!
Keeping Six- Hamilton Harm Reduction Action League is a community-based organization that defends the rights, dignity and humanity of people who use drugs. It was formed in response to the ravages of the opioid crisis, by people who use drugs and those who love and care for them, for purposes of mutual protection and cooperation.
Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team is an outreach service of general internal medicine and infectious diseases physicians, family physicians, registered nurses, midwifery and outreach workers whose goal is to provide excellence in clinical care to individuals who have difficulty accessing care in the traditional medical system.
For media inquiries, please contact Lisa Nussey firstname.lastname@example.org or 905-966-0242.
March 23: K6 & HAMSMaRT Newsletter no. 1
March 23, 2020
Dear HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six Supporters,
Hello! What a wild week it has been in the world, and right here in Hamilton. We hope you are all staying well, and finding ways to socially connect while physically distancing. Thanks to everyone for their support as we get our COVID-19 response up and running.
We have decided to do a weekly newsletter to keep people informed about what is happening, and opportunities to support this work. We have realized over the last week that we are not responding for a few weeks, but rather for a few months to a year. So, bear with us as we get organized to do this work for the long haul. We can’t wait to draw on all of you who have offered to volunteer, and details about how to get involved will be coming in about a week.
The core organizing group met yesterday, and based on our capacity and what we are hearing from people on the street, we will be trying to do outreach three times per week. This will be Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday afternoons. This week it will be core organizers doing outreach, and we will be asking for new volunteers to help out starting in one week. We are finalizing our social distancing protocols to try and keep street outreach as safe as possible for everyone involved.
For medical personnel who have offered to volunteer at the isolation sites, we have passed along your contact information to the City of Hamilton who is coordinating the sites. We will keep you posted if we have any new information about these.
Thanks to Mary, who is producing infographics to share what we are hearing on outreach. The first few are attached to this email, and we will share them each week. You can also find them on our twitter accounts @HAMSMaRTeam and @keepingsix. The key themes we are hearing are that many services have shut down; people have nowhere to go especially during the day to get warm, use the washroom, or wash their hands; people need food and warmth and shelter; and people are very worried about being isolated or quarantined and as a result being forced into withdrawal from opioids or alcohol.
Finally, a note for us all to consider. Health is political. Responses to pandemics are political. As we see who is cared for and who is left behind during this crisis, we know this is a direct result of who has power and resources and who does not. We provide direct support to people who are homeless and who use drugs as an act of solidarity with our communities. We ask government leaders to listen to and act on the advice of people who are most affected, who are homeless, who use drugs. This is part of our work towards a more just world where everyone has access to the relationships, resources, and power they need to determine their own health and the health of their communities.
ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE THIS WEEK:
DONATE (or ask people in your network to donate) https://keepingsix.org/support/
VOLUNTEER Do you have a front porch/outdoor drop off zone and storage space to accept donations of warm hats, mitts, and socks? If so, email us email@example.com and let us know, we need you!
DONATE warm hats, warm wool socks, warm mitts (stay tuned for details on where to donate once we have procured a place)
VOLUNTEER Are you asymptomatic, with limited exposure to potential COVID-19 cases, and baking skills? We are looking for a few people to donate their time and skill to make home baked goods for bagged lunches. If this is you, email us firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know, we need you!
DONATE juice boxes, pop, and/or groceries for baking, as requested by our bakers. If you can provide these, email us email@example.com and let us know, we need you!
DONATE wagons for outreach. We need 3 more large folding canvas wagons. If you are willing to temporarily lend yours or know someone who would email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can coordinate drop off.
AMPLIFY our messages on twitter @HAMSMaRTeam and @keepingsix and by forwarding this email, so that decision makers LISTEN to people who are homeless and/or who use drugs about what they need right now
Organizers from Keeping Six and HAMSMaRT
March 19: A Call to Action and a Thank You to Our Extraordinary Supporters
A Call to Action and a Thank You to Our Extraordinary Supporters
March 19, 2020
Dear Community Members, Friends, and Allies:
Our first pandemic outreach session on Tuesday of this week was both successful and revealing. Our community members are generally aware of the recommendations for social distancing and increased hand washing, but they have no way to implement these measures. We know that city and health officials are working around the clock to prevent what now seems like the inevitability of community transmission. Keeping Six is calling on those with the ability to open more spaces for people unable to socially distance to be creative and decisive.
We need these measures now; we are calling people to act. The health of our entire city depends on it.
As we traverse this unknown path together, we wanted to take a moment to offer our heartfelt thanks to the truly extraordinary people who have been stepping up in this unprecedented time.
We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support we have received over the last 48 hours. So many of you have been asking how you can help, and without you, there is no way we could effectively serve our friends and family who are counting on us to do what is right.
We know you are anxious to get started. We are a small organization and are working diligently to figure out how to handle the proportions of this crisis and the overwhelming love and offers of support that keep coming in. If you have emailed email@example.com to get involved, we will be in touch very soon. In the meantime, take care of one another and be kind to those of us who are on the street with no where to be when everything is shut down.
Follow us on Twitter or watch this site for updates. We will be posting the information we gather from the community on how these pandemic measures are impacting those who are simultaneously some of the most resilient and vulnerable in our City here after each outreach session. This will inform our own organizing and, we hope, those in positions of power tasked with serving our community and implementing measures to flatten the curve.
While we live in uncertain times, we are certain that if we continue to be there for one another, we will meet the challenges ahead with compassion, focus, and courage.
In love and solidarity,
March 16: A Message from K6
A Message from Keeping Six
March 16, 2020
Dear Community Members:
The Keeping Six Drop-In is the heartbeat of our organization. Every Tuesday – for over a year – we have looked forward to gathering, as a community and family, to support each other and share our vision for a more just future. However, as the world grapples with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and social spaces close their doors in an effort to contain the spread of the virus, we must suspend the Drop-In until at least April 6, 2020.
We are currently formulating a plan to continue meeting the needs of those of us who rely on the Drop-In. In these ever changing conditions, we are going to continue doing what we do best, which is making people feel safe, supported, connected, and loved. To that end,
this Tuesday March 17, from 3 to 5pm, we will dispatch a street outreach team in the downtown core to distribute a bagged lunch (we know, it’s not our standard three course hot meal, but it’s something!) and harm reduction supplies. We will also be armed with paper and pen to collect information from the community on how these pandemic measures are impacting our people, and to sort out what is needed most so that we can organize accordingly.
It has already become clear to us that the efforts to slow the spread of the virus will disproportionately impact the people we love and care for: people who do not have access to the infrastructure needed to put protective measures into place, and people for whom the shuttering of all drop-in programs and public and communal spaces will mean undue and harmful deprivation. We have been heartened by those who have responded with kindness and collective action to meet the needs of those who are not able to meet them on their own. Facebook groups like Care Mongering Hamilton and impromptu childcare and neighborhood care networks are being pulled together. This is the spirit and approach that is needed from official responses to this pandemic.
Hamilton Drs. Caverhill and Dosani have called on local officials to put measures into place to protect homeless and marginalized people, and Toronto street outreach nurse, Cathy Crowe, has compiled a justice- and science-driven list of recommendations which include increasing the capacity of the shelter system and creating conditions to reduce the spread of the virus. As a community based organization led by people with lived experience of homelessness and drug use, we would add one more recommendation to these wise demands: include us in these discussions and plans; we know how and what will work in very tangible ways. Please don’t shut us out.
As it has always been, defending the rights, dignity, and humanity of people who use drugs remains the central focus of our organization.Though these are uncertain times, uncertain times joined us together, and why we stand ready to support our community as it navigates the challenges ahead.
In love and solidarity,
How to get involved
If you would like to volunteer with us, please complete the form below and we will connect with you as soon as possible. If you do not have a phone, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved instead of filling out this form.
* indicates a required field
We promise to keep all the information that you share with us confidential and only use it for the purposes of volunteer coordination. We will never sell or share your information.
For those of us who use, during this time of heightened precautions, please consider the tips below, adapted from the Harm Reduction Coalition’s guide to safer drug use during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minimize the need to share your supplies
Don’t share e-cigs/cigarettes, pipes, bongs or joints, or nasal tubes such as straws. If you have to share, practice harm reduction with your supplies (wipe down the mouthpieces with an alcohol swab before sharing or use separate mouthpieces). Put used smoking, snorting, and injecting equipment in a sharps container so people know they are used.
If you are having sex or doing sex work, COVID-19 can be transmitted by close contact like coughing, kissing, or direct contact with bodily fluids. Try to minimize close contact and ensure condom use.
Prepare your drugs yourself
Wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with soap and water and prepare your own drugs. Keep your surfaces clean and wipe them down before and after use, with microbial wipes, alcohol (at least 70%), or bleach. If you can’t prepare your own drugs, stay with the person who is. Get them to wash their hands thoroughly, and to clean up before and after.
Plan and prepare for overdose
Emergency services might be stretched in a COVID-19 outbreak, and slow to respond to 911 calls. Load up on naloxone. If you are alone, experiment with using less to lower your risk of OD, and go slowly. If you are using with others, make an OD plan with them and stagger use if possible. Store a breathing mask for use in case rescue breathing is needed.
Keeping Six and HAMSMaRT are dispatching street outreach teams in Hamilton’s downtown core to distribute bagged lunches, harm reduction supplies, and collect information from the community on how it is being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures being taken to slow its spread. This information will guide our organizing efforts. Summaries of data collected during outreach sessions will be shared in this space, revealing some of the immediate and upfront concerns from the streets.