When we fear what we do not know…

Recently, in Calgary, we’ve had an ongoing debate around a Supervised Consumption Site, both a fixed address and proposed mobile facility. As part of the debate, the phrase most used to describe its necessity is ‘harm reduction’.

To those not accustomed to working in the areas of addictions or homelessness, harm reduction can be a scary thought. Partially because unless you do work in this field, you don’t really understand it (even those who work in it sometimes struggle with it), and secondly, because it immediately suggests there is harm to someone, we just don’t know who and being naturally egotistical humans, we fear what we do not understand and assume it is us at risk of the harm.

Harm reduction is about lessening opportunities for self-harm by creating safe practices and spaces for those engaged in drug use. Someone with an addiction is going to use. That’s what addictions do. They steal ‘common sense’ and override our entire beings with this burning desire to have the thing we desire, even when we know it’s not good for us. We don’t really think about the dying part. We think about the relieving ‘the itch’ by using the thing that gives us relief.

But, we say, they choose to be addicts, why can’t they take care of themselves? Or as one person commented on a news article online, Why can’t we just let them all die?

I don’t know about you but people dying on my watch, when I have the capacity to make a difference, even if it’s only by accepting a Supervised Consumption site in my area is better than being complicit in someone dying of a drug overdose anywhere.

On average, 2 people die of opioid poisoning in Alberta every day with Calgary experiencing the highest number of overdoses in the province.

This is a complex issue. Lives are being lost. And we are afraid. The challenge is, I’m not sure we know what it is we fear.

Do we fear encountering someone on a high on the street?

Do we fear someone dying in front of us?

Do we fear we won’t know what to do if we encounter someone overdosing?

Do we fear the unknown?

All of these are real fears.

Are they real enough for us to take action by learning more, by carrying a Naloxone kit for example, or by volunteering at an organization that works with people with addictions or who are experiencing homelessness?

Or, do we just complain, criticize and condemn those who are doing their best, even when we don’t understand what they’re doing or why, to keep fellow human beings alive.

There is a narrative in our society about addictions that is not healthy.

Addiction is a choice.

People should just stop.

If they’re going to use,  it’s not my job to save them.

There’s nothing I can do.

Actually, there’s lots each of us can do. We can become advocates for kindness, compassion, acceptance of our fellow human beings, in all their many facets, in all the expressions of our shared human condition.

Ultimately, by creating a kinder more forgiving and tolerant world, we create opportunities for everyone to live free of labels, free to experience what it means to be human in a world that does not judge or find others lacking simply because they’re different than us. A world that sees our differences as vital parts of the fascinating and beautiful mosaic that is our human condition.

In such a world, anything and everything is possible.


Please note:  This post is not to create a debate on supervised consumption sites or addictions or the opioid crisis. My words are my effort to understand better what it means for me, and what I can do, create, change.

If my words stir something in you, please do share your thoughts. Your thoughts will help me understand more, create common ground, increase the field upon which we share understanding.

Please be respectful. Kind. I reserve the right to delete comments that denigrate or belittle human beings.

6 thoughts on “When we fear what we do not know…

  1. I will not address the many “elephants in the room” for it will serve no purpose here. Opium and its ilk first surfaced around 3400 BC. The opioid crisis – in the early 1990s. Will we ever get to the bottom of the issues involved – I do not believe so. It would take an international effort to bring about a solution and we know there is neither the will nor political inclination to tackle this head-on. Therefore, if even one soul can be assisted by a safe consumption site, that is one soul that deserves self-respect and dignity. We are human and we do help each other, at least that is how I was raised.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think much of the reactions to facilities like this has to do with perceptions of personal risk. The risk of personal harm to the public is likely infinitessimaly small, but the perception of risk is extraordinarily high. People generally see heightened risk when experiencing situations over which they have little or no control. We’re all like this. We see airline travel as “riskier” than driving an automobile — even though the statistics say exactly the opposite. But we believe we have some measure of control when we’re driving a car. The key is to give people some element of control and acknowledge their concerns as valid. Experts usually do just the opposite and dismiss public concerns as something that will never happen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Glynn. I really appreciate how you frame it — and I so agree. We often do the opposite of what people really need, which if validation of their concerns. When I used to do community engagement in this sector and was working with communities on a new housing development I would tell concerned community members that I hear them, the individuals we house do look different, do appear to have mental health issues — because in many instances the ravages of homelessness and living on the streets have impacted them so greatly, their physical and mental health have been seriously impacted. This is hard work — but keeping homelessness out of your backyard means ensuring those experiencing it have a home, we can’t promise it will be easy and perfect, but we can commit to doing our best to supporting both those we house and community. It generally helped.


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