By Ashley Mollison, YES2SCS (Yes to Supervised Consumption Site)
In mid-June a coalition of groups in Victoria came together to host Street Deaths are Preventable Deaths: Week of Education and Action about the fatal impact of poverty and homelessness.
The week was prompted by a report released by the UVic Poverty Law club documenting their investigation of 30 deaths of street-involved people in Victoria in the Summer and Fall of 2012. Many of the deaths were not investigated, or classified as Natural or Accidental, highlighting a lack of reporting and recognition of the harmful effects of poverty and homelessness. This report comes on the heels of a Megaphone report stating that the life expectancy of homeless people is between 40 and 49 years.
The week included a gathering of street involved people, 2 forums and a rally with these diverse and overlapping messages:
- A lack of action: Twelve years ago, the health authority, City of Victoria and the VicPD committed to addressing harms caused by poverty and illicit drug use. With little action to date, the city has re-committed to a Safe Consumption Site and say they plan to have these services running by 2018.
- Harm reduction works: Effective services have resulted in nearly eliminating new diagnoses of HIV among people who use drugs on the Island in the last 10 years, but overdose deaths/year have doubled in that same time. Now it’s time to prioritize the lives of people who use drugs.
- We are survivors: Street-involved people have survived and continue to survive personal and systemic trauma and violence. While death and dying in this community needs to be politicized, people’s resiliency needs to be recognized and their lives memorialized.
- Stigma kills: Stigma and discrimination continue against street-involved people, and particularly people who use drugs. Stigma prevents people from accessing and getting adequate health care. Diseases that could be caught earlier are not found or diagnosed too late, leading to early death.
- Know your history: Health care institutions (e.g., hospitals, clinics) have racist and oppressive histories and have the ability to re-traumatize, re-institutionalize and re-colonize. It is up to health and social workers to know the history of their institutions and the history of the people they serve to create culturally safe environments and not cause more harm.
- Criminalization makes people’s health worse: Criminalization of street-involved people by police and bylaw officers sends the message that homeless people are not welcome in our city, and prevents people from accessing necessary life-saving, health services.
- Documentation, investigation and prevention: The cause of street deaths are complex, but the solutions include better documentation and investigation of street deaths when they happen to understand and address systemic inequities that create and perpetuate poor health and early death for people living in extreme poverty. The street community must lead these strategies.
A coalition in Victoria will be starting a campaign in Fall 2015 to highlight the fatal impact of poverty and homelessness. For more information about this campaign or how to get involved, email YES2SCS at firstname.lastname@example.org, website http://www.yes2scs.ca/.