Survey shines light on effects of unregulated drug supply, COVID-19 on those experiencing homelessness

By Karis Mapp

The Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council spearheaded a survey in 2020 to examine issues affecting those who regularly use unregulated drugs and lack stable housing. 

In total, 43 people were surveyed and 44 per cent identified as female while 56 per cent identified as male. 

The report showed that 74 per cent of those individuals were in temporary shelters and 26 per cent had no shelter. Of those, 93 per cent indicated that harm reduction supplies on site at shelters is essential or important — and 91 per cent indicated that permitting substance use on site in shelters is essential or important. 

84 per cent of respondents said the price of unregulated drugs has risen through the pandemic, and 67 per cent noted a change in the quality of drugs, like toxicity. 

100 per cent said they witnessed an overdose before COVID-19 and 88 per cent have witnessed at least one overdose since the onset of COVID-19 in March of 2020. 

When it comes to crime, 16 per cent reported being victimized every day and 86 per cent said they had never informed police about their victimization.

The full report can be found by clicking here

Meanwhile, Michael Parkinson says many of these deaths would be avoidable by adding more safe supply sites.

He is a member of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council and joined Jesse Burt on the Mike Farwell Show on CityNews 570. Burt is an outreach worker with the local AIDS committee. 

There is currently only one consumption and treatment services site in Waterloo Region and it is located in downtown Kitchener. Parkinson believes that there needs to be more in the area.

“What we don't talk about very much is that addiction is a cause of death among people that are homeless,” he said. “It is absolutely a preventable condition. Decriminalizing people's lives is an essential step.”

Parkinson added that many people experiencing homelessness have no choice other than drugs. Some are trying to numb the pain of past traumas within their lives while others are simply trying to protect themselves.

“It's not uncommon to hear people talk about doing crystal methamphetamine, a stimulant, in an effort to feel safe,” he said. “To stay awake because when you're sleeping out on the street, it makes you extremely vulnerable”

For Burt, someone that witnesses the daily struggles of the un-sheltered community, it is very upsetting and he feels helpless at times.

“It's very heartbreaking because it's very difficult to stabilize someone when they have to seek out the unregulated market and we can't provide any other options for them,” said Burt.

He added that there are other cities that are further advanced than Waterloo Region in regards to functioning encampments.

“It's a struggle to get these individuals to see housing and medical workers when they're constantly being moved around.”

Overall, Burt summed up the interview by stating that if we're going to address homelessness, we need to address drug policy first. 

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