Housing needed to reduce harm caused by drug use: Expert tells symposium nation's harm-reduction strategy has deteriorated under Tories
By Walter Cordery, The Daily News
The keynote speaker at Monday's harm-reduction symposium in Nanaimo bolstered two Nanaimo city councillors' conviction that low-barrier housing is essential to help people overcome their addictions.
Walter Cavalieri, founder of Toronto's harm-reduction task force and the Canadian Harm Reduction Network has for more than 20 years been actively engaged in harm reduction programs and delivery.
During his address before doctors, nurses, outreach workers and former addicts at the Coast Bastion Inn, Cavalieri said access to low-barrier housing gets people off the street and public fears that intravenous drug users will leave used needles around a neighbourhood are unfounded.
He said needle exchange programs, clean crack pipe distribution programs, condoms and other harm-reduction strategies work. It's why more and more countries are "moving toward harm reduction and away from the criminalization of drug use."
Unfortunately Canada, "which used to be a beacon of light when it came to harm reduction" has bought into the American war on drugs, which has proved unsuccessful.
Housing is essential to keep drug users healthy and sane, Cavalieri said in support of low-barrier housing projects.
"If somebody is going to use intravenous drugs, they will use them in their own homes."
Those who oppose housing and other harm-reduction strategies for drug users and alcoholics aren't thinking about the money these strategies save the public health system.
"It's a form of NIMBYism but I don't believe it's malevolence," said Cavalieri.
Coun. Diana Johnstone agreed.
"People aren't going to get well living on the street," Johnstone said.
"So, yes of course, we agree with what he is saying," she said nodding toward Fred Pattje, the other Nanaimo city councillor in the crowd.
A number of residents in the hospital area are opposed to city council's decision to place a
30-unit, low-barrier housing project at the corner of Dufferin Crescent and Boundary Avenue. They fear an increase in crime if the city persists in its plan.
Pattje said he has been talking to members of the Hospital Area Neighbourhood Association but they insist on smaller housing projects that they believe should be spread throughout the city.
It's an issue officials can't control because all the city can contribute to housing projects like the one proposed for the hospital area is land, while the province supplies the money.
Cavalieri was also critical of the federal government's decision to spend "billions" on new prisons and its insistence that abstinence is the only way drug users can get healthy.