Harm Reduction

For the past eight months, I developed and coordinated a transitional housing, psycho-social rehabilitation program. I loved every bit of it, and saw some incredible progress from individuals who were living with mental illness, addictions and experiencing trauma. The programs ultimate goal was to move individuals along the housing continuum, from shelter living, to stable and permanent housing.

It was one of the few programs that ran from a harm reduction standpoint. The men in the program were allowed to be intoxicated or inebriated and stay in the program, as long as they did not bring substances into the rooms which they occupied. What they chose to do outside of the residence was out of our control.

Unfortunately, on February 12th, I was informed that the organization is running at a deficit and due to financial constraints the program would be closing, and that I would be laid off. Instantly I was heartbroken, not for myself, but for the men living in the program, as I could foresee much of the progress they put forth being lost. I can’t say much else in regards to this, without putting my own bias into the decision that took action. But I can tell you the value of harm reduction.

What is harm reduction? From a professional & clinical perspective, it is a respectable, non-judgmental practice that helps someone reduce the negative consequences of substance use. From a personal perspective? It’s progressive, it’s cost effective, its smart, it saves lives.

What does harm reduction look like? It’s reducing HIV infection and hepatitis, reducing overdose deaths, reducing the sharing of needles and other substance-use equipment through needle exchange, safe injection sites, education about: safe sex, sexual health, and safer injecting, reducing crime, and its knowing what & why sterile water, a cooker vitamin-C (ascorbic acid) is provided for injection use, the importance of push sticks and mouth pieces for safe inhalation kits.

Harm reduction is having abstinence days or times through the week when drinking consuming water in between drinks, its drinking with friends or family you trust, its not keeping alcohol in your living space; but only drinking when you choose to drink. Its educating yourself about depressants, and stimulants.

For those in our city who are less fortunate and marginalized, this can be a lot harder to do, because they do not have a place to stay and don’t have the funds that most individuals do. This is why, housing first, also acts as a form of harm reduction. You see, those of us who rent or own our own homes, can be as intoxicated as we want, as long as we do not disturb others. Those without a home, live their lives publicly and hence why you see so much public drinking.

There is more detox centres, more treatment centres, harsher punishment for crimes, longer jail times. But many of the individuals you see on the street have been to these facilities, only to return to the street and re-enter the cycle of poverty. Alcohol and drugs make us feel powerful, secure, and in control….so instead of ripping that away from someone, we could be giving them something to live for, meaning they might not need to self-medicate as much at anytime. If they choose to live in the privacy and safety of their own home and not disturb anyone, its nobody else’s business.

MichaelMarshall_smMichael Marshall
– Concurrent Disorder, 2012


Posted below are links for more information and education on harm reduction practices:







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