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Keeping Six

NewsletterK6 & HAMSMaRT Newsletter no. 27

K6 & HAMSMaRT Newsletter no. 27

January 25, 2020

Dear HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six Supporters,

Hello and happy new year! We’ve been relatively quiet over the last few months. We spent this time continuing to do outreach in downtown Hamilton, supporting the COVID-19 pandemic response as it affects people who are homeless and people who use drugs, and taking some time to regroup and refocus. We plan to return to monthly newsletters. This month, we’re sharing lots of food for thought – things to read, watch, and listen to as we navigate the second year of the pandemic and the fifth year of the opioid poisoning crisis.

In November, we had our report back on the encampment injunction. With a huge thank you to Laura, Courtney, and Zack, we now have a recording of the report back with closed captions available to view online. We’re especially grateful to the encampment residents who shared their perspectives via video and audio throughout the report back. Ashley commented that “We have a sense of community. We’re just together, we watched each other’s backs … everybody helped everybody…one way or another.” Daniel observed that when the encampment at Ferguson was cleared “We also lost a sense of belonging because we felt while we were in the encampments that we actually belonged somewhere for a change in the City, not just in the gutter…There was a lot of outpouring of support from the community while we were there.”

Hamilton now has three months of experience with the new encampment protocol and the Encampment Task Force (ETF) under its belt. So long as anyone is sleeping outside against their will and the routes of entry into homelessness continue to flow, there is more work to be done than to be celebrated.  However, we would like to take a moment to acknowledge the work of the ETF in implementing what we see as improvements to the way people in encampments are engaged.  We have seen greater effort to get people indoor options, more people permitted to stay in one place and for longer, an effort to ensure people’s belongings are not discarded without consent (ie only when they have moved on and left things behind) and responsiveness and accountability on the part of the ETF for improving procedures and transparency.  We reiterate that this protocol is not perfect and we are learning more about how as we go, but we also want to acknowledge the progress that has been made is respecting people’s rights and dignity since we took up this issue almost a year ago.  We will continue to work to hold the ETF to account  and push for increased access to housing, the real solution to this symptom of a crisis.

November also saw us receive funding to sustain outreach until the end of March 2021. Our street outreach is supported by the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund and Hamilton Community Foundation, and we are incredibly grateful! We literally could not do this work without their support.

Since November, we’ve faced the second wave of COVID-19 as a community but with specific effects on people who are homeless in Hamilton. There are outbreaks in shelters, which understandably makes some people decide to avoid them. Outbreaks also close the door to new admissions, and if someone is then facing a service restriction at another shelter, this can mean there are no indoor shelter options available to them. Further, if a person experiencing homelessness is identified as a close contact of a COVID positive case, they are denied entry to area shetlers and told to isolate, we presume on the street.  Dr Tim O’Shea and Dr Jill Wiwcharuk shared their perspectives on the current situation with CBC news. This is in the context of new research that quantifies what we already knew – people who are homeless in Ontario are more likely to get COVID-19, and more likely to die from it.

We and others are repeatedly told by City officials that there are policies in place to address these COVID 19 complications to access and ensure that no one unwillingingly sleeps outside, but our direct experience tells us over and over again these policies are failing.  More and more of our friends, clients and patients are being forced to sleep rough as shelters deny entry for COVID related reasons.  This has prompted us to relaunch the tent drive, to ensure people have some basic modicum of cover in these winter months.  It  cannot be stated loudly and clearly enough that HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six are NOT encouraging people to sleep outside in the middle of the winter, people are being FORCED to sleep outside in the middle of the winter and we are trying to mitigate the harm of that.  To donate, you can email tents@keepingsix.org or e-transfer funds to giving@keepingsix.org.  

On a related note, we are beginning to explore ways to address the impact of service restriction on people who are homeless, especially people who also use drugs. Service restriction is the practice of limiting or denying access to emergency shelter for a set period of time. Shelter staff may impose restrictions for possession of illicit drugs or harm reduction supplies, or violating shelter policies.  Teviah Moro at the Hamilton Spectator recently highlighted some of the impacts that service restriction can have on people’s health and wellbeing. We agree with others who have framed this as a multi-sectoral issue and responsibility, requiring collaboration and resources from both the health and social services sectors as well as all three levels of government. However the need for a cross-sectoral, cross-government approach is not an excuse to delay taking the actions that can be implemented now.

Many of you will already be aware of the racist hate messages left for Councillor Nann on her voicemail. We join with others in Hamilton in denouncing this act of hate toward Councillor Nann and BIPOC communities.  We must centre in all of our social justice work that racism is real, it causes immense harm, and we must actively dismantle it. For those of us reading who are physicians, and applicable to all licensed professional health workers, this article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal explores the ways in which professionalism has been constructed to reflect and uphold whiteness. It calls us to reimagine anti-racist work as a central tenet of professionalism in medicine, rather than a contradiction to it. Prison and police abolition work is part of anti-racism work, and health workers are starting to have important conversations about how to reduce the harms of incarceration in healthcare settings. Dr Claire Bodkin and Dr Sara Alavian were recently interviewed by Talking Radical Radio about a zine coming out in February on abolition politics in healthcare, and caring for people who are detained in community healthcare settings.

Finally, we must also understand the health and social conditions in Hamilton within a broader global context. Vaccine distribution is an equity issue not just here at home, but around the world. It is a massive reminder of how racial capitalism drives health inequities around the world. While 39 million doses have been administered in nearly 50 richer countries, only 25 have been given in one lowest income nation.” Twenty. Five. The inhumanity of this is staggering. These inequities in distribution can be deliberate and weaponized, as we see in the example of Israel, lauded for its swift and widespread vaccination program, while UN human rights experts have identified they have not ensured the same access to vaccination for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip. At a time when the Canadian government has contracts to purchase over twice as many vaccine doses as required to vaccinate every single Canadian by the end of 2021, we must pressure Canadian officials to provide vaccination resources to the global south.

Thank you for your ongoing support of Keeping Six, HAMSMaRT, and our Hamilton neighbours. Right now we are most in need of donations of gently used or new tents, or cash to purchase tents. To donate, you can email tents@keepingsix.org or e-transfer funds to giving@keepingsix.org.

In solidarity,

Organizers from Keeping Six and HAMSMaRT

EST. 2018

Keeping Six – Hamilton Harm Reduction Action League is a community-based organization that defends the rights, dignity, and humanity of people who use drugs.