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Community-Based Care Alternatives: Building Blocks for a Just Future

Community-Based Care Alternatives: Building Blocks for a Just Future

by Destiny Pitters

Main image by Pete Railand

Though not an easy task, the steps to recreating a world that prioritizes community care and people over profit are already being undertaken today, with examples rooted long into the past. Whether simply as a way to make the day-to-day more survivable, or an intentional response to structural injustice, marginalized communities and their accomplices have implemented ways of caring for one another that displace our reliance on exploitative systems. Below are a few examples of what that looks like and tips on how to action these yourself!


Street Safety

A pink circle with blue text that reads: “Support Not Stigma” and red text that reads: “Harm Reduction Saves Lives.” The middle has a blue circle with naloxone nasal spray surrounded by flowers. Art by Katie Kaplan.

Since the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020, there have been unignorable and widespread critiques about the effectiveness of policing for public safety. This death was only one of the many instances of disproportionate police murders of Black people across Turtle Island , and in June 2022, Toronto Police Services released a bombshell report on its racist policing methods: statistics like Black people being 230% more likely to have a firearm aimed at them in police encounters did not shock, but continue to fatally disappoint.

Advocates for community-based street safety look at ways we can keep each other safe, often without police intervention, as well as how to prevent or minimize how much harm is experienced. The first-of-its-kind Toronto Community Crisis Service is a group of trauma-informed response teams that provide wellness checks with a call to 211 – checks that are typically performed by police and end fatally for racialized folks, like Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Ejaz Choudry, both Ontario deaths from the summer of 2020.

As well, drug-related harm reduction strategies like carrying and administering naloxone is an invaluable approach to community safety, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens the current overdose crisis. Within the first year of the pandemic in Canada, opioid toxicity deaths increased 96% from the previous year, and in 2021, there were approximately 21 overdoses per day. Increasing harm reduction literacy among the general public and empowering ourselves to look out for one another in this way is an investment in a future that prioritizes community safety.


Tips:

  • Find out if your locality has an alternative to 911 that you may call for immediate wellness support.
  • Take training, online or in-person, on how to recognize an overdose and administer naloxone. Many pharmacies provide naloxone kits free to the public.
  • Connect with your local harm reduction collective. For Brantford, Hamilton, Halton, Haldimand and Norfolk: The AIDS Network.

Transformative Justice

An indigo image of a large body kneeling on one knee, holding some plants in one hand. The text reads: “uproot tendencies toward policing others that exist inside you.” Art by Molly Costello.

Transformative justice is an abolitionist approach for responding to harm without creating more harm. This approach asks: what social circumstances promoted the behaviour, what structural similarities exist between this incident and others like it, and what measures could prevent future occurrences? This is a stark contrast to our current retributive justice model which asks: what rule has been broken, who is to blame, and what punishment do they deserve? Eldership, and the responsibility of elders to facilitate healing conversations between harm-doers, victims/survivors, and their loved ones; and bring the harm-doer back into community is one historical example that potently served and continues to serve Black and Indigenous communities alike, as well as other racialized groups.

Tips:

  • Embody this principle by committing to accountability: be honest, open and fair to others about your actions, intentions and boundaries.
  • If you have access, seek an elder in your community for counsel during times of difficulty or challenge.
  • Invest in the safety of yourself and those around you – check out resources from TransformHarm.org.

Doulas and Midwifery

A pregnant, dark-skinned person in a pink shirt with long hair being supported by a doula in a blue shirt, with dark skin and short hair. The background is red with green leaves. Art by D’ara Nazaryan.

The recent overturning Roe v. Wade, which protected abortion rights in the United States, has rippling consequences for reproductive justice everywhere and brings up many anxieties, especially for Black folks.

In Turtle Island, “granny midwives” are a significant part of Black history: “Experienced midwives were among the many enslaved individuals who survived the middle passage and continued to practice and train others as the primary source of birth care throughout the country.” After emancipation, Black midwives continued to serve Black and white pregnant people alike, often in rural and remote areas where hospitals were inaccessible. This role was a significant pillar in communities, and its legacy carries on to this day, even in doula work.

Doulas are trained companions supporting another person through a significant health event in their life, be it pregnancy, abortion, illness or death. Although these are increasingly institutionalized roles, doulas and midwives are an irreplaceable source of community health care, especially when considering the harrowing effects of medical racism – like the fact that Black women are up to 6x more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications due to poorer quality of care.

Tips:

  • Stay up to date and access resources on your sexual health rights and services at a local or regional clinic.
  • If curious, check out local doula or midwifery services, especially if you belong to a historically under-serviced or maltreated group, like Black and Indigenous peoples.

Livable Housing Access

Photo of ACORN protestors on a sidewalk in red shirts with picket signs. One large, white banner reads: “ACORN. Homes Over Profit.” Photo from The Hamilton Spectator.

Unlivable housing is a crisis in Canada. Poor building conditions and unaffordable pricing is driving people out of the market, into houselessness and even death: in April 2022, two disabled Ontarians successfully applied for Medical Assistance in Dying after being unable to secure safe and affordable housing.

Marginalized communities are at the forefront of organizing for housing justice and reminding the public about different ways to envision living spaces and how we occupy land. Tiny House Warriors is an Indigenous-led campaign to strategically place tiny houses along the Trans Mountain Pipeline route to assert Secwepemc Law. Chorus Apartments in BC is the first-of-its-kind building with rental homes for those with developmental disabilities and those without disabilities. ACORN Canada is an independent organization advocating in low- to moderate-income neighbourhoods for adequate health and safety standards. And encampment support networks, like that in Toronto and Hamilton, work with unhoused folks to provide basic survival supplies like tents and water; report on city activity like police evictions; and decriminalize activities, like loitering or drug use, which unhoused folks are more likely to be harassed for.

Tips:

  • Talk to and break down the barriers with your unhoused neighbours. How are they doing? How might you be able to offer support at the moment?
  • Check out and support your local ACORN or housing reform/justice collectives, where applicable.
  • Take training, online or in-person, on how to recognize an overdose and administer naloxone. Many pharmacies provide naloxone kits free to the public.

Nourishing Food Access

Photo of a blue fridge and pantry on a sidewalk, painted with fruits, vegetables and two brown hands holding one another. It reads: “Collective community care. Free food for all / Comida gratis para todos.” Photo from Sactown Magazine.

Providing free access to nourishing food is a critical demonstration of mutual aid. Poor, Black, Indigenous, rural and remote communities are more likely to face food insecurity, with less access to foods like fresh produce or facing exorbitantly expensive prices: in Nunavut, food costs up to 3x the national average, which looks like $10 milk or $13 cauliflower. Some community-based responses include distribution tables, which hand out free food, clothing, menstrual products and other resources; free seed libraries; community fridges; and community gardens.

Tips:

  • Find a local community fridge and donate regularly, or plant a garden.
  • Set up a regular food distribution table or join a collective already doing so.

These are only a handful of examples of community-based care alternatives. To be clear, the onus is not on individuals to single-handedly better their lives – many if not most of these initiatives are responses to governmental failure or intentional, oppressive harm. However, these actions do show us feasible paths to a future oriented around community care, safety and wellbeing. No one exists in a vacuum, and our survival through trying times will, as always, depend on shared skills, resources, knowledge and radical love.

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