Celebrating One Year of Operations at the Safer Drug Use Space – YWCA Hamilton
Mary Vaccaro oversees YWCA Hamilton’s Safer Use Space and is a PhD Candidate
McMaster University School of Social Work. Here are her reflections on the first year of this life-saving program.
One year ago, on April 23rd, 2022, YWCA Hamilton in partnership with the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team and Keeping Six officially opened our Safer Drug Use Space (SUS). Over this past year, we have worked together to create a space where women, trans and non-binary people who use drugs and experience homelessness are respected, cared for, and supported.
Over the past 365 days, we have welcomed 205 unique women and non-binary folks into our space. We have successfully reversed 54 drug poisonings/overdoses and we have not had to make any calls to 911 for assistance from paramedics or police in our space. We have not had any fatalities and we have not had to transfer anyone to the emergency room for care after a drug poisoning.
At 10:00pm every night, the Safer Use Space staff (including YWCA Harm Reduction Workers and Keeping Six Workers) open our doors – not only providing lifesaving support in response to the toxic drug crisis, but also a place of safety, support, and connection overnight when all other services are closed.
In addition to providing a safe place to use illicit substances (IV, nasal and oral), we also monitor people who choose to smoke their substance outside. We provide access to clean harm reduction supplies, naloxone, and naloxone training. We also provide first aid supplies for wound care and reproductive health care supplies (like safer sex supplies, pregnancy tests and Plan B).
In partnership with the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team, we operate one of the first gender-specific safe supply clinics in Canada at the YWCA Hamilton on Tuesday evenings. The Support and Safer Supply (S.A.S.S.) program aims to provide pharmaceutical grade opioid alternatives to people at risk of dying from the contaminated illicit opioid drug supply, as well as peer support to assist women and non-binary people in achieving whatever self-defined goals they have related to their overall health and well-being.
In partnership with Keeping Six and the AIDS Network, the Safer Use Space hosts peer-led groups every Friday that range from kit-making (putting together harm reduction supplies for distribution); art, meditation, yoga and other self-care activities.
In addition to saving lives, providing gender-specific harm reduction services and connecting people to a safer supply of opioids, the Safer Use Space has also connected many people to healthcare services, wound care, withdrawal management supports and reproductive healthcare.
To celebrate our first year of operations, we have done a few exciting things:
Creating a safer drug use space at YWCA Hamilton Webinar:
On April 24th at 1:00pm – the Safer Use Space team has been invited to lead a national webinar being hosted by the Women’s Housing and Homelessness National Network (WHHNN). The intention of this webinar is to share about our program model with other gender-specific shelters, drop-in spaces, and housing providers across the country.
To register please find more information at: https://womenshomelessness.ca/webinars/
Safer Use Space Zine:
In collaboration with Unsheltered the Zine, the women and non-binary folks who access SUS have developed a Zine about what the Safer Use Space means to them.
You can view a digital copy of our Zine here!
Video of the Safer Use Space:
In partnership with the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition at Simon Fraser University, we created a video showcasing the Safer Drug Use Space. You can watch our video here!
Building Solidarity amongst Harm Reduction Teams Workshop:
In April, we brought the entire Safer Use Space team together including leadership from YWCA Hamilton and the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team for a workshop facilitated by Juno Zavitz. This workshop focused on building solidarity and strength amongst our team as we continue to do this lifesaving work.
We are grateful to the community of women and non-binary people who have trusted us to provide this service, to our partners that make this work possible and to our funders including the Hamilton Community Foundation, Women for Change and the Canadian Women’s Foundation for their support over the past year.
We hope that the next year ushers in more equitable drug policy particularly for women, trans and non-binary people who experience homelessness and other sites of health and social inequity. We will continue to advocate for systemic responses to the toxic drug crisis while providing on the ground lifesaving supports through the Safer Drug Use Space.