5Qs – Time for YIMBY

It only takes a quick look around to see that stigma still runs rampant on the streets of Victoria. That fact is easy enough to brush off as you say ‘No change’ to the homeless person with a hand out, or frown at the junkie sloped against a building’s brick wall. But our own biases get harder to ignore when the organizations around the city throw “Anti-Stigma Week: Drug Use, Dignity and Human Rights” from Feb. 7 to 14 in an effort to raise awareness about exactly what biases we all bring to the table.

Harm Reduction Victoria organizer Derek Peach is one of many hoping to reduce stigma this week

Victoria Anti-stigma week asks residents to check biases

It only takes a quick look around to see that stigma still runs rampant on the streets of Victoria. That fact is easy enough to brush off as you say ‘No change’ to the homeless person with a hand out, or frown at the junkie sloped against a building’s brick wall. But our own biases get harder to ignore when the organizations around the city throw “Anti-Stigma Week: Drug Use, Dignity and Human Rights” from Feb. 7 to 14 in an effort to raise awareness about exactly what biases we all bring to the table.

The week, which offers a range of events including film screenings, talks and more, will involve the efforts of Harm Reduction Victoria (HRV), PEERS, the Society of Living Intravenous Drug Users (SOLID), the Victoria Committee to End Homelessness, the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. and others.

Monday had a chance to speak to Heather Hobbs, community organizer from HRV, about her role in the week, and why breaking down stigmas is important for us all.

Monday Magazine: What is stigma, and how is it associated with the Victoria community?

Heather Hobbs: Stigma occurs when someone has a certain status that makes them less acceptable in other people’s eyes. When stigma obscures the rest of someone’s identity, as it often does in the case of people who use drugs, it has a devastating affect. Stigma can shame people and make them feel unwanted. It deters people from seeking out support, prevents access to housing and health care and excludes them from participating in our community.

Stigma and place also come together in a phenomenon often referred to as “NIMBY” or “Not In My Backyard.” We believe that stigmatizing attitudes have played a key role in the loss of the Cormorant Street fixed-site needle exchange, in the efforts to remove people from Pandora Green, in the restrictions placed on mobile needle exchange services and in the difficulties of finding new locations for harm reduction services.

MM: Why is a week that draws awareness to such stigma important? What can it achieve?

HH: The goal of the week is get people thinking about the impacts of stigma on the health and well-being of our communities, and transform stigma into dignity for all. HRV is helping to organize and host a number of events throughout the week. We hope that, in years to come, other collectives will come together to focus on new themes related to the impacts of stigma.

MM: Are there any stigmas particularly close to your heart that you hope one day will be abolished?

HH: It’s always baffling to me when people who want to see [drug users] off the streets advocate for NIMBY tactics, exclusionary zones and forced treatment. These approaches stem from dehumanizing attitudes that only serve to reinforce the self-loathing experienced by those they wish to change. The impact of this is that people on the streets retreat further, numb more intensely and lose grip on hope.

MM: What do you hope people realize this week?

HH: When we as a community open our hearts and minds with compassion, curiosity and a genuine respect for human dignity, we open ourselves to really witnessing the trauma, abuse and pain experienced by folks on the street. We come to understand that when we do more listening and less shaming, the opportunity may arise to work together as allies.

MM: Is there anything Victoria residents can do to help battle everyday stigmas?

HH: We want people in our community to consider how their attitudes and actions impact the people that they see on the streets—even by the choice of words we use to describe their experience. We hope that the week’s events will encourage people to listen, engage in discussion and consider how they might contribute to a community that embraces a diversity of life experiences, and the rights of everyone to health care, housing and support that allows us all to thrive. M

For a full schedule of events, or to volunteer to help out with the week, visit harmreductionvictoria.ca.

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