Acts of Resilience
"One of my guys called me a couple days ago and he's like, 'I really want to restart up Monday Munchies.' It's the program where drug users feed other drug users in one of our residential buildings. And I'm like well, that's great. I don't know how we're going to do it [because of COVID-19 restrictions]. He's like, 'well why don't we deliver the food door to door?' And I'm like fuck, bingo man. You know what I mean? LIke it's amazing when people put their thoughts to it, the kind of novel situations or solutions that actually can be thought of."
Frontline workers are an essential component of responding to the overdose crisis. Frontline worker know their communities, including the intricacies and needs. This is especially true within drug using communities where frontline workers are often currently, or have been, people who use drugs. Understanding the experiences of people who use drugs allows frontline workers to "meet people where they are at." But how does one meet people where they are in a pandemic, where community members face increased levels of displacement due to law enforcement and the public health guidelines? At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, in May and June 2020, frontline workers on the CRISM team discussed finding novel ways to continue their work and meet people where they are as a form of resilience against the growing challenges (including increases in overdose deaths) and increased structural barriers (resulting in less access to food, housing, and other supports).
"Posters and information packages. For people who have a space where they'll sit down and maybe have a coffee or eat or something and they say, 'hey, let me see what's in here.' The packages are good. People who are just on the fly and the only concern is to get from point A to point B and they don't have any real space that they can relax or chill in, then postering the spaces that are being frequented would be an added help. But that's my thinking."
COVID-19, law enforcement, displacement, stigma, and other structural barriers have continued to negatively impact the daily lives of people who use drugs. However, frontline workers continue to reach out to and support community members via various information sharing strategies. Access to information is critical to harm reduction, and sharing information is a vital act of resilience in the drug war and in the face of structural barriers. Frontline workers prioritized the preparation and sharing of posters and information packages, which allow community members to access information and resources on their own time. In a system where barriers to affordable and stable housing, harm reduction, and safe supply of non-toxic drugs persist, strategies and tools are needed by people who use drugs to navigate systems and institutions that may otherwise leave them behind.
"So for me [harm reduction] is trying to support people...to be able to manage their own... And a big part of it is information. I mean you provide the tools that are necessary as well as you can, but a big part is about information and helping people to navigate some of the barriers."
Information sharing is but one act of resilience performed by frontline workers in the drug war. Nonetheless, it is a crucial part of harm reduction strategies, and in a time where structural barriers are escalating and intensifying, people who use drugs and are a part of drug using communities need information to help navigate systems, structures, and institutions that may otherwise leave them behind.
To meet people where they are for members of the CRISM team meant to go to the places where people are as well. In the opening quote, one of our members talks about food delivery directly to people's home, but it can also mean providing information and harm reduction supplies wherever people currently are:
"We usually go where people are really hidden, in our organization anyways, and I know street outreach, they go way down like in the river valley where people are hiding and not really in a crowd."
Frontline workers with living and lived experience of drug use (PWLLE) have extensive expertise in supporting difficult-to-reach communities in need. The drive and determination to continue caring for others the Group members maintained over the pandemic is a testament to the importance of PWLLE working in harm reduction services.
We hope these reflections inspire hope and motivation in others.