Harm reduction in the Queen City

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A print of some flowers and a rabbit, with text saying “Saskatchewan harm reduction saves lives.”
Of course, given the actions of the Saskatchewan government, we have no reason to feel they want to save lives. Maren Savarese Knopf

Regina community coming together to learn about harm reduction

“Power anywhere where there’s people.” – Fred Hampton, 1969 

Community members gathered behind the doors of the Hampton Hub for a bustling and vibrant Teach in Tuesday to discuss harm reduction in Regina. Teach in Tuesday is an ongoing series of speakers invited to discuss prominent social justice issues within Queen City and beyond.  

The hub itself is named after Fred Hampton, the former deputy chairman of the national Black Panther Party (BPP) in the United States. There is a distinctly Saskatchewan connection. In November of 1969, Hampton and two other Black Panthers visited the University of Regina campus. In Regina, Hampton spoke about the deep-rooted systemic racism prevalent in the criminal justice system and the BPP’s revolutionary agenda and community initiatives. 

The impact of Hampton’s visit on Queen City has been commemorated in the now lively Hampton Hub that continues to serve up transformative and community engaged initiatives. Trio Mthembu, with his brother Thabo Mthembu, told the Regina Leader Post he started the Teach in Tuesdays because, “It’s just so fun and engaging to have different perspectives and [to] have a community leader or expert of a certain topic have a shared discussion with the whole room.”  

The latest Teach in Tuesday was led by Brittany Cook and Dustin Kimball to discuss the impending winter season and the lack of a clear plan to address housing, substance use, and mental health crises.  

Harm reduction is an evidence-based approach that seeks to reduce the health and social harms associated with substance use. A harm reduction approach views substance use as a facet of human society and does not require people who use substance (PWUS) to abstain from or stop substance use. Central to a harm reduction approach is that it provides PWUS a choice in how to minimize harms through non-judgemental practices.  

There are eight commonly cited pillars of harm reduction. These include: accepting that illicit and licit substance use is a part of our world, understanding substance use as a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, establishing and prioritizing the quality of individual and community life and wellbeing, non-judgement, ensuring PWUS are involved in the creation of policies and programs to serve them, affirming that PWUS are agents in reducing harms, recognizing the interconnected nature of structural systems and their impacts on substance use, and not minimizing or ignoring the harm associated with substance use.  

In discussion, Cook and Kimball repeated the importance of looking at people ‘on the streets’ from eye level. “Anyone of us can be that ‘junkie,’” said Cook. This sentiment is captured within the principle of “meeting people where they are at.” To do so means to put aside our desires for a person, in this case a PWUS, in favour of understanding where they are in their journey. This requires us to listen without judgement, to ask questions, and first and foremost the recognition and upholding of the fact that they are human.  

Moreover, Cook pointed to lack of resources as codifying and driving the current housing and substance use crisis, stating: “There is no junkie, there is no homeless-crazy-whatever. The only thing there is, is a lack of resources, and a lack of compassion that a community has.”  

A community member from the discussion period following Cook and Kimball’s talk pointed to the historical and ongoing traumas of settler colonialism, calling on us to ‘connect the dots’ between colonialism and the housing and substance use crisis. The same community member asked us, “How would our treatment of people who use substances change if we saw everyone as all our relations?”  

The teach in concluded by identifying existing resources in community, and expressed the shared responsibility of addressing the interconnections between the housing and substance use crises. Identified strategies included carrying naloxone and other supplies to distribute as needed, writing to MPs and city councillors, and supporting local ‘boots on the ground’ organizations providing harm reduction services.   

Teach in Tuesdays are planned to continue throughout the year at the Hampton Hub and interested folks are encouraged to stay up to date with announcements. It is recommended that seats be booked in advance as they fill up quickly.  

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