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Keeping Six

NewsletterK6 & HAMSMaRT Newsletter no. 30

K6 & HAMSMaRT Newsletter no. 30

May 31, 2021

Dear HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six Supporters,

Happy mid-spring! There is a silver lining of hope as the third wave recedes and more and more people are getting vaccinated. We’re not out of the woods yet, but hopefully we can start to imagine a time when we can be together in person again.

As the weather warms up and there are outbreaks in some shelters that have halted new admissions, there are fewer places for people to be indoors and more people choosing to live outdoors. We continue to do twice weekly street outreach and our outreach coordinator Marcie is working with people living outside most days of the week. We’re excited to see the Encampment Support Network launch and for more people to be engaged in supporting our neighbours while considering the political actions required to end homelessness. The encampment protocol remains in place and we believe it offers some limited protection for people. We have heard the valid criticism of the encampment protocol and want to be clear that the protocol was reached to try and reduce harms from encampment clearings, but it does not eliminate them. Only safe, dignified, accessible housing can do that. We settled with the city after a drawn out injunction process because we knew that we might not get the outcome we wanted if we went to court – not because we believe that people should be moved on with no place to go, or have their belongings disposed of, or be coerced into housing that does not meet their needs. We are committed to ensuring that the protections provided to people through the protocol are honoured, and to continuing to work with all our partners in the community to ensure that people living in encampments are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. 

The Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN), the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario/Ontario Forensic Pathology Service (OCC/OFPS) and Public Health Ontario (PHO) have updated their report on opioid overdose deaths during the COVID 19 pandemic. This is the quantitative description of what people who use drugs and those who love them already know. More people than ever are dying due to drug policy that has created an increasingly lethal drug supply every day. This is particularly awful for people who are deprived of housing, where rates of opioid-related death have increased by 139% during the pandemic. 1 in 6 opioid related deaths in Ontario during the pandemic were among people who were homeless. In the first 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, an additional 17 843 years of life were lost due to opioid overdose compared with the 6 months prior. And of course, these numbers are people – with their own inherent dignity, with interests and relationships and contributions to the world.

People who use drugs deserve a response that carries the intensity and breadth of the COVID-19 response – safer injection sites, housing, safe supply, and a community that values them. We were grateful to operate a safer drug use space and safe supply program alongside the inpatient addictions medicine service at the Salvation Army Booth Centre while they were in outbreak. Thank you to so many of you who showed up for this work. Our hearts broke again when Scott, a resident at the shelter, died of an overdose and bad drug policy the week after the site closed. We hope to see and continue to work towards the expansion of safe supply and safer drug use spaces across the city, especially in shelters. Shout out to The Aids Network of Hamilton for recently endorsing two policy statements calling for a human rights based approach to encampments, and the decriminalization of drugs and expansion of safe supply programs.

We are now making connections at five different art and writing drop in dates! The Wesley Day Centre Sundays 1-4pm, Monday to Wednesday 5-8pm, and Wednesdays at St Patricks Catholic Church 2-4pm. The June zine is in production now – coming soon. For this issue we are working in collaboration with The Muse at McMaster. They are a medical humanities initiative which publishes magazines on a bi-annual basis, as well as organizing events/workshops,and running a blog. The theme of the June zine is A Possible Future; we asked drop in participants to consider what we have learned over the past year and what they think is important moving forward. Another arts collaboration is with CCENA (Centre for Community Engaged Narrative Arts) paving the way for more connection. Plans are still underway for the Keeping Six Writers Group, and we hope to have small in person meetings soon – pending public health protocols.  We will have support from McMaster graduate students and guest writers will be invited to the group to share their work and inspire the Keeping Six writers.

As a group, we are particularly grateful to our outreach coordinator Marcie. Marcie marks one year with us in June. Her lived experience, along with the relationships she has built over the past year with people living in encampments and people who use drugs, has allowed us to offer some measure of support and solidarity to people deprived of housing and people who use drugs in Hamilton. And she brings a wide range of other skills and relationships to her work at HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six.

Finally, we must acknowledge the ongoing colonial violence that is surfacing right now. We at HAMSMaRT have been learning more about Palestine here, and this podcast explores the impact of settler-colonialism on health in Israel and Palestine. And we are heartbroken but not surprised at the mass grave confirmed in Kamloops this week. Colonization is an active, current violence enacted on our behalf by our settler Canadian government against Indigenous peoples on this land. For those of us who are settlers, consider how to take up the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action in our workplaces and if you have the means please donate to the Indian Residential Schools Survivor Society.

Mariame Kaba reminds us “Changing everything might sound daunting, but it also means there are many places to start, infinite opportunities to collaborate, and endless imaginative interventions and experiments to create.” We know many of you reading are already doing this work. For those who are looking for places to start, our friends at the Decent Work and Health Network are looking for 1 or 2 people to help with postering in Hamilton. With HAMSMaRT, we are spending time at a drop in program and emergency food and clothing program helping people get signed up for vaccines. Email info@hamsmart.ca if you’d like to get involved with either project.

Thank you for your ongoing support of Keeping Six, HAMSMaRT, and our Hamilton neighbours. We expect that more of our neighbours will be living outdoors as the weather warms up. We continue to need gently used or new tents, or cash to purchase tents. To donate tents, you can email tents@keepingsix.org or e-transfer funds to giving@keepingsix.org.

In solidarity,

HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six

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.