K6 & HAMSMaRT Newsletter no. 28
March 15, 2021
Dear HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six Supporters,
We hope you are all doing well, and found time to enjoy the brief days of warmth! It’s hard to believe but this week marks one year since March 17, 2020 – the first day we operated street outreach! It happened thanks to the vision of Dani, Jody, and other Keeping Six founders who knew that if drop in programming and clinics were closed then we needed to meet people outside. One year later we’ve had over a hundred volunteers help us bake cookies, decorate lunch bags, collect donations, and go on outreach; dozens of people made monetary donations; we’ve hosted a webinar on mutual aid and a report back on the encampment injunction; and we’ve had the privilege of getting to know hundreds of Hamiltonians who are deprived of housing while trying to navigate COVID-19. And you! You’re still reading our little newsletter!
Over the past month in Hamilton, like so many other cities across Ontario, outbreaks of COVID-19 were experienced in emergency shelters. In response to these outbreaks, we are grateful to Inpatient Addictions Medicine Service in Hamilton and dozens of new and experienced volunteers who have contributed to supporting those experiencing homelessness over these past 3 weeks with harm reduction services and supplies at The Salvation Army Hamilton Booth Centre. We are deeply encouraged to see what can happen when we come together to support those in our community. We also applaud the City of Hamilton and vaccine leadership table in quickly prioritizing the vaccination of all shelter staff and residents.
Part of our work is supporting health justice advocacy led by other groups. To that end, we wrote a letter in support of Hamilton Students for Justice and their calls for the resignation of trustees Paiken-Miller, Johnstone, Archer, and Buck. From the letter: “Education is meant to be about bringing up our next generation of leaders and creating an engaged community. Led by young racialized people globally, the world is on the move as it relates to questions of racial justice. Our education system needs to be ahead of that curve, not lagging desperately and embarrassingly behind it. As health care providers we understand the connection between quality education and health, as well as the relationship between racism and health. Many of us in HAMSMaRT are parents, and all of us are caregivers. We want for the community what we want for our own children, an enriched educational experience which teaches us to value and listen to people’s experiences and doesn’t demand/expect the comfort and well being of some at the expense of others.”
We also wrote a letter to council commending their decision to endorse and petition the Provincial government for paid sick days during the pandemic. We requested they go further to join in the growing refrain to demand permanent paid sick days as a matter of justice and protection of public health. Led locally by the Decent Work and Health Network, and endorsed by the Ontario Medical Association, the Association of Local Public Health Agencies, the Ontario Nurses Association, and Ontario’s Big City Mayors, we support the call to pass Bill 239 Stay At Home If You Are Sick Act and ensure universal, seamless, easy to access, paid, permanent sick leave for all Ontario workers.
Dr Claire Bodkin is part of a collective of lawyers and healthcare workers who recently released theCaring for People Who Are Detained Zine. This is a resource for frontline healthcare providers to deliver better care to patients seen in community settings like clinics or the emergency department while in the custody of police or correctional officers. You can download it for free, or get a hard copy mailed to you!
Opioid overdose deaths have increased by almost 60% in Ontario between January and November 2020, the most recent month for which coroner’s data is available. Dr Jill Wiwcharuk was recently interviewed for Hamilton Community Foundations’s Vital Signs TV show about the local Hamilton context, and the episode is available to view online. To be clear this is a drug policy crisis and a drug poisoning epidemic. People who use drugs and the people who love them, including Keeping Six, have been telling us for years – widespread change is required at all levels of government and healthcare, including decriminalization of drugs, access to an uncontaminated legal supply of drugs, and low barrier access to treatment for people who have substance use disorders and want treatment. For those of us who are healthcare providers, our job is to listen to PWUD and act proportionally to the emergency this is. If you are a practitioner interested in learning more about prescribing safer supply as part of the response to the poisoning crisis, please email us to connect.
We encourage you to read this op-ed about why migrant workers need priority access to vaccination against COVID-19. 12% of migrant workers were infected by COVID-19, much higher than the national average. Migrant workers often work in meat packing plants, on farms, and as personal support workers and child care providers – all roles where they can’t easily physically distance. Many live in shared accommodation. While they contribute essential labour to Caandian society, they have not been prioritized alongside other essential workers. We echo the authors in calling for free, universal access to vaccines without coercion.
As the weather warms, we expect that Hamiltonians will begin to count more people in tents and sleeping rough among their neighbors. Please remember to be kind. Introduce yourself, offer some food and a warm welcome. Encourage others to do the same. Let’s together build community, not divisions.
Thank you for your ongoing support of Keeping Six, HAMSMaRT, and our Hamilton neighbours. Right now we are (still) most in need of donations. We need gently used or new tents, or cash to purchase tents. We are also supporting a friend of HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six to move into their own apartment, and looking for furniture – a small kitchen table and chairs, end tables, coffee table, a floor lamp, a dresser, a TV stand, and a bookshelf. To donate towards tents, you can email email@example.com or e-transfer funds to firstname.lastname@example.org. To donate furniture, please email email@example.com.
HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six