Harm Reduction Program at Sistering

Harm reduction recognizes that a percentage of the population will engage in high risk behaviours such as substance use, alcohol consumption and unsafe sex. Harm reduction offers a social justice and public health response to drug use, as opposed to a criminalizing one. It focuses on reducing the harm associated with high risk behaviours and aims to improve the health and safety of our participants and our community. Harm reduction also provides effective alternatives for working with participants who are street-involved and at risk by focusing on reducing social, economic and health related problems or issues. It is based on the participant’s needs “where they are at”—respecting, honouring and supporting their ability to make decisions.

Five of Sistering’s participants have become Harm Reduction Peers, and under the guidance of coordinator Carol Danis, have been trained by the City’s continued on next page public health department. e peers have attended workshops, and know how to implement safer drug practices in their outreach. Because the peers are the best source of information (based on their own experiences), they help to determine effective interventions to reduce the harm caused by use. e peer workers educate drug users on how to use drugs more safely and teach safer sex practices to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. The peer workers function as a team to promote health, safety and support. They o-er continuous support to fellow peers at Sistering, as well as other partnering agencies such as Queen West Community Centre, All Saints Church, Regent Park Community Health Centre and Parkdale Community Health Centre. As well, Outreach is focused on pockets of marginalized areas in the city, especially where women have little or no access to services. Peers make and distribute safer smoking and injection kits as well as make referrals to other health agencies which provide support to women in need.

KAPOW (Knowledge and Power of Women), a support group for women-identified sex workers in Parkdale, also partners with Sistering’s Harm Reduction Peers sharing resources, knowledge and providing peer support.

While Sistering’s Peer Harm Reduction Program assists female drug users in staying healthier, it just as importantly helps the peers facilitating the program to feel inspired—their contributions drive their own personal growth and help them to better manage their own lives. Participating in outreach is rewarding. Peers receive recognition from the community, and they are often told by the women they help, that they are happy the peers are there. It is a peer-to-peer relationship that is mutually beneficial and inspiring.

Sistering’s Harm Reduction work has also improved the lives of peers, and challenges them to better themselves and respond better to high risk situations. “Perhaps the most important aspect of this job is seeing how the women learn to love themselves and strive to become all they can be. It is wonderful to be able to see how far they have come, despite all they have been through. The strength and perseverance of these women never fails to amaze me,” says Danis.