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