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Keeping Six

NewsletterK6 & HAMSMaRT Newsletter no. 31

K6 & HAMSMaRT Newsletter no. 31

June 29, 2021

Dear HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six Supporters,

Happy Pride Month, and a belated Happy National Indigenous Peoples Day! We hope you are all staying well and finding ways to seek out slivers of comfort and joy. So many of us are in the midst of huge grief and trauma. We take solace in our relationships with each other, and the land.

We continue to go on outreach 3 times per week. As life has changed for all of us, some of our volunteers have moved on. If you’d like to get involved with becoming an outreach volunteer, please sign up here. If you are a previous volunteer and want to reconnect, you can email volunteer@keepingsix.org to ensure you are kept up to date on volunteer opportunities. Thanks to our mighty team who keeps going out and meeting people week after week. We are working with a number of community partners to continue to address the overdose death epidemic that is out of control in Hamilton and across the country. We will keep you all posted on this work, and would love to hear what you are working on as well.

July 27 and 29 we are partnering with The Aids Network, the Canadian Drug Policy Institute, and the Center for Dialogue (Simon Fraser University) to host a Dialogue about harm reduction, service restrictions (people being banned from a service or agency) due to drug use, and the role of safe supply (access to pharmaceutical grade versions of currently illicit drugs). The event invites a wide range of stakeholders to join virtual tables and talk about these topics and how we as a community can create and take steps towards change.

The June quarterly is out on the streets – the theme is A Possible Future. You can purchase a hard copy at Vintage Coffee Roasters or Church 444 or via the Keeping Six website.  A digital copy will be posted to the site soon. Art Outreach continues to take place 4 times a week. Sunday through Tuesday we are at Wesley Day Center, 52 Catherine St.  Our latest art project is asking people to fill our Jar of Happiness; what makes you happy, how do you make others happy. These stories will form the backbone of the September quarterly.  Wednesdays we are outside at St Patrick’s Rest and Hygiene center. Come out and join us for art, writings, snacks and conversations. Thanks for the support from the Canadian Mental Health Association, who provide funding for supplies and peer artists payments.

In the midst of an escalation of encampment displacements, we are angry to see that school resource officers have been or will be redeployed to encampments and mental health response. This move is shockingly out of step with the demands of over surveilled communities for less, not more policing. We saw in Toronto last week what harm is caused when encampments and the people living in them are treated as a policing and enforcement issue – total disregard for human rights and dignity. As one of our members Tim O’Shea says, “Yes, police can ensure that people don’t sleep in particular parks. This does nothing to address the underlying issue; it leads to people being displaced to less safe locations.” 

The ultimate aim of the redeployment and reorganization of the cancelled school resource officer (SRO) program is the creation of a Rapid Intervention Support Team (RIST), which is a “proposed model that would provide support to the most marginalized and vulnerable people in our community”. The project proposes enhanced community agency funded collaboration and coordination with HPS as part of the Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan. Notably, the HPS Information Report declares that: “Community buy-in is the most critical element to this pilot project, and presently the right stakeholders are at the table.”  This is simply not true. There is zero representation of the people who will be on the receiving end of this programming listed among the partners and endorsers.  There is a list of health and social service agencies that have signed on to support – not community members. K6 was asked to support this pilot project and declined, even though we see the ways that the Social Navigator Program (SNP) has worked to build relationships with people deprived of housing.  We said no to endorsing this project because poverty and mental health and community safety are not issues of law and order. We unequivocally believe that health and safety for people who are living in encampments and people in mental health crises are best served by caring community-led responses, and further harmed by armed responses (including policing). We need to budget our values; imagine the different ways that the 2+ million police budget surplus could be used to provide housing and other tangible supports to people.

Some of our members independently supported calls from Black physicians and community leaders for structural reform on the Board of Health. Structural problems, like anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, require structural solutions. We were pleased to see some councillors understand that discussing and addressing governance is an important and productive tactic for ensuring the Board of Health continues to evolve and best serve the needs of all Hamiltonians. We were disappointed and frustrated to hear Mayor Eisenberger dismiss the delegations as accusations. As one of the delegates, Dr Natasha Johnson, explained “At the time that I delegated, I genuinely assumed the blind spots or omissions were due to lack of diversity and lack of public health knowledge with EDI [equity, diversity, and inclusion] specific focus on the part of the Board of Health.  I am now struck by the insistence on wanting to have a blind spot that has been pointed out.  This insistence – knowing that lives are at stake – is unconscionable.  The mayor’s clinging tight to the status quo and subsequent allegations regarding “unfounded accusations” of the delegates is very worrisome. He is right that our concerns were serious.  We expressed them in a tone commensurate with the gravity of the situation.  The tone of each professional was respectful.  The mayor’s suggestion that the delegations of the experienced professionals was accusatory is, in fact, what is dangerous here.  Dismissing us as unprofessional people who made false claims and who generate a need for him to protect his staff plays right into dangerous stereotypes about Black people and other people of colour.  Please see me for who I am – a qualified medical professional who is also a Black woman dealing with microaggressions on a regular basis.” For more about this issue, please read this open letter and consider signing.

In a beautiful and inspiring show of collective action for the collective good, national and regional governments from the Global South held a four day Summit for Vaccine Internationalism, committing to break the vaccine apartheid besieging the poorest countries of the world.  Summit participants committed to 5 key cooperative steps to ensure necessary vaccine coverage for the entire world: open collaboration over Covid-19 vaccine technologies, solidarity prices for Covid-19 vaccines, sharing of regulatory capacity to approve Covid-19 vaccines, pooling manufacturing capacity to ramp up vaccine and medical equipment production, and collective disobedience to challenge the Big Pharma monopoly enforced through the World Trade Organisation. This is huge, and exactly the kind of leadership we need right now and always: one that brings the people and leaders of the world together, harnessing our capacity for ingenuity and cooperation in the interests of all of humanity. 

Finally, we acknowledge the continued discovery and confirmation of unmarked graves at residential “schools” in Canada. We will each be marking July 1 in our own way as settlers, figuring out how to reckon with our past and present and this genocide. A few pieces to read as we contemplate the way forward are Tanya Talaga’s op-ed in The Globe and Mail, “A call to Canadians: Help us find every burial site. Bring every lost Indigenous child home. Prove that you are who you claim to be;” Courtney Skye’s essay in The Local, “From Six Nations to Christie Pits and Back,” and a piece in the Hamilton Spectator about calls from survivors to identify unmarked graves on the grounds of the nearby Mohawk Institute residential “school”. In Hamilton, there is an Indigenous-led event open to Indigenous people and non-Indigenous allies at Pier 4 park from 1 to 5 pm July 1.

Thank you for your ongoing support of Keeping Six, HAMSMaRT, and our Hamilton neighbours. 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.