WHAT IS HARM REDUCTION?
Harm reduction refers to a set of ideas and practices designed to minimize potential negative consequences related to people who use substances. This practice is based off the belief in respecting the rights of people who use substances by coming from a non-judgmental perspective on support, free of coercion or abstinence. The model can encompass a wide range of aspects including:
- Education and health services
- Overdose prevention sites
- Emotional support
- Substance testing
- Safe supply
- Combating stigma
At Atira, our work is informed by our understanding that women’s experiences of gender-based violence is central to their use of substances and that understanding the intersections between women’s experience of violence, poverty, racism, gendered patterns of drug use/harms, and lack of support for mothering, are critical to developing programs that are seamless and which increase opportunities for women to keep themselves and their children safe.
We believe in meeting people where they are at in their substance use journey and support them with the decisions they make for themselves. All of our programs operate from a harm-reduction framework and are open to all self-identify women, including cisgender women, transwomen, genderqueer women, and two-spirit individuals.
We currently operate two women-only overdose prevention sites in the Downtown Eastside:
SisterSpace is the world’s first women-only community accessible overdose prevention site, opening in May 2017. The safe space supports women who use substances by creating respectful, reciprocal relationships. SisterSpace offers witnessed, harm reduction services for women, including a staff and peer-supported injection room, access to treatment, housing support, and other services onsite. SisterSpace has been accessed over 344,000 times, with an average of 550 women accessing the site each year.
SisterSquare also operates in the community and is open to all self-identifying women, including transwomen, genderqueer women and two-spirit individuals. SisterSquare is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support women who are escaping abuse, with access to showers for those experiencing homelessness. With regional rates of violence against women intensifying as the COVID-19 virus began to circulate, the COVID pandemic also forced women out of safe gathering spaces due to limited capacity and reduced hours of operation.
Since its opening in May of last year, SisterSquare has had over 68,000 visits, at least 385 unique women accessing the site. Opened as a direct response to the effects of COVID, SisterSquare has now established itself as a safe haven for women in the area, where folks say it is one of the few places they feel truly safe.
WHY WOMEN-ONLY OVERDOSE PREVENTION SITES?
We know from our own experience at Atira and in the Downtown Eastside that women often face significant barriers in accessing co-ed services. It is not uncommon for women to have to line up with men who have caused or want to cause them harm; or to have to wait in the same room. Many women simply make the decision to forego services altogether.
We expect it will not be uncommon for women to use the room following experiences of trauma such as a physical or sexual assault or rape. Further, we expect women will use when they are feeling despondent about loss of contact and relationship with their children and or their intimate relationships and or other familial relationships.
HARM REDUCTION PROGRAMS AND SUBSTANCE TESTING SITES:
Find overdose prevention sites in your area.
- Understanding Harm Reduction.
- Harm Reduction: A British Columbia Community Guide.
- Principles of Harm Reduction.
IF YOU NEED SUPPORT, CONTACT US AT 604-681-4437 OR CALL OUR 24/7 CALL-IN SUPPORT LINE AT 604-800-8881.