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Erin Dej

The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Marginalized Populations

Recently, Dr. Erin Dej (Laurier) and Mr. Ben Scher sat down with Kevin Hiebert from 98.5 CKWR to discuss the severity of the opioid crisis in Canada and the crippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on people who use drugs and/or are experiencing homelessness. Both Dej and Scher’s research prioritizes the lived experiences of those who are most affected by the opioid crisis, precarious housing, and homelessness. In doing so, their research findings challenge commonly held misconceptions about homelessness and the ways marginalized people are constructed by dominant social discourses, including those related to substance use. A common misconception is that homelessness is a result of poor life decisions and that there are inherent differences between those who are homeless and those who are not. However, such a belief fails to acknowledge the larger social, economic, and cultural context (e.g., shrinking social safety net, job loss, precarious employment, discrimination and oppression) that foster the marginalization of certain groups. In particular, the researchers demonstrate that the pathway to homelessness for many individuals is an unaffordable housing market, job loss, and illness, factors beyond an individual’s control. In fact, Dej and Scher suggest that communities should be concerned about the economic downturn caused by the pandemic and the potential for a surge in homelessness following the withdrawal of pandemic-related assistance (e.g., Canada Emergency Response Benefit, lifting the moratorium on evictions). Yet, this economic fallout is not the only concern raised by these scholars, as many of the safety protocols established by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as isolation, increases the risk of overdose deaths in drug users. The question then becomes, how can we reduce these risks and ensure the safety of people who use drugs during such critical times? Dej and Scher agreed that part of the answer can be found in supervised consumption sites and the provision of safe drug supplies. Previous research highlights the numerous positive outcomes of supervised consumption sites including reductions in crime, the presence of drug paraphernalia, loitering, and most importantly overdose deaths. Research also shows positive outcomes when safe supplies are provided to users, including the ability to reconnect with family, find and maintain housing, and become positively integrated in the community. So why aren’t these programs replicated in all communities? In many cases it’s due to community pushback. Dej and Scher each argue that as a society we must become comfortable with the reality that there is no quick fix for addiction and recognize the value of offering people the time that they need to recover. As Dej states, “there needs to be a continuum of care so that all people at different stages of their recovery journey can be taken care of.”

 

You can listen to the complete interview here.