Fear hurts the future of harm reduction

Folks here in the capital long ago mastered the art of saying one thing and doing another.

Folks here in the capital long ago mastered the art of saying one thing and doing another. We support affordable housing as long as those pesky renters don’t bring down our property values. We support mixed-use development as long as nobody ruins our quiet residential neighbourhoods with noisy commercial activity. We support fixed site needle exchanges as long as those dope fiends stay the hell away from our homes.

Nowhere is this philosophy more apparent than in the field of harm reduction. The debate over the location of the now completed Ellice Street shelter stretched into the small hours of the morning, with highlights including members of the street community being referred to as dangerous scum. Service providers in the region have been extolling the benefits of a fixed needle exchange since time immemorial, but show me a community ready to play host.

“I think there’s a lot of fear,” explains Darcie Bennett of the Pivot Legal Society. Whatever the source, the end result of that fear is the fervent opposition we’ve come to expect whenever the topic of harm reduction drifts too close to reality.

However, all is not lost. The Pivot Legal Society has put together a workshop designed to empower people who support positive change to make themselves heard, and is coming to the capital to share their philosphy of acceptance and compromise.

“It’s really important because these issues of neighbourhood opposition can become a real barrier even in cases where political funding and approval are there,” says Benett. “We’ve seen so many projects flounder as they look for a home while harm accumulates in the community.”

Benett and the Pivot Legal Society helps us to remember something. Every time a development that incorporates supported housing is in the public eye; every time a shelter is proposed for a vacant lot; every time we start to complain about the crowds outside the shelter or the soup kitchen or the needle exchange — every time these things happen, we have a choice. We can allow our xenophobic aversion to the unknown to guide us blindly through life, or we can commit to a community that values the services that will guarantee a better community in the long term.

Darcie Benett will be speaking on June 1, from 1-3 p.m. in the central meeting room of the Victoria Public Library. For more information, visit vipirg.ca. M

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