People-first harm reduction in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
In the summer of 2022, CATIE visited Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to learn more about Prairie Harm Reduction’s programs, and to share the stories and voices of the people behind this work.
Saskatoon is located in central Saskatchewan, hugging both sides of the Saskatchewan River. Saskatoon is the traditional territory of Cree, Saulteaux, Dene, Dakota, Lakota, Nakota and Métis nations, and is home to many diverse Indigenous peoples today. Saskatoon has one of the highest concentrations of Indigenous people among large cities in Canada.
Saskatchewan continues to see record-setting years of toxic drug deaths, including in Saskatoon. Like elsewhere across Canada, colonialism, racism and systemic inequities mean that Indigenous people bear a disproportionate burden of the toxic drug crisis.
Prairie Harm Reduction is a community-led organization at the centre of the response in the province. They are most well known for opening Saskatchewan’s first safe consumption site (SCS), a safe and judgment-free zone for individuals to consume substances, including a dedicated inhalation room. Their approach was truly grassroots, working tirelessly with community partners to open and operate the service despite the absence of government funding.
However, Prairie Harm Reduction is more than just a supervised consumption service. They act as a community hub, with a number of drop-in and outreach programs. It is one of the few places in the city where people experiencing homelessness or marginalization can safely go without facing stigma or harassment. The drop-in centre offers a variety of healthcare, mental health, social and cultural services. In one spot, people can meet with an Elder, be tested for hepatitis C, use the SCS, find housing or just have a meal and watch TV. Prairie Harm Reduction also offers family and youth housing programs, primarily aimed at keeping families together.
Most services are primarily run by community members, many of whom have lived experience of drug use. Jobs range from harm reduction outreach, naloxone training and various roles to operate the drop-in centre programs. Prairie Harm Reduction has a flexible work policy, giving community members the option of how often they work, and ensuring fair compensation, including benefits.
At its essence, harm reduction practice is about people, and Prairie Harm Reduction’s work embodies this idea. Amidst many political hurdles and challenging social conditions, they have put their community members first through the delivery of low-barrier, non-judgmental care and meaningful involvement to create grassroots change.