Imagining alternatives

When the pandemic first started, given what was known at that time about its spread the solutions seemed pretty obvious — provide info about COVID and work with people living outside to find out what would work from their perspective. Instead the colonial government has done what it always does: tried to impose strategies of control and containment.

Corralling people into large tent cities with limited access to showers and handwashing, and no access to laundry, is the worst possible thing you can do in a respiratory pandemic. Sticking people whose survival relies on community into motel rooms and telling them to “self-isolate” is the worst possible thing you can do in a pre-existing public health crisis of overdose.

There were and continue to be alternatives. They all start by building trust through asking people what their priorities are and then leveraging resources to make those priorities happen. It’s OK to not have all the answers, and to admit that. It’s a good thing to value people’s innate resilience and creativity and look to them for guidance. People in the street community know how to stay alive despite incredible hardship, and how to look after each other with no money. That is powerful.

But that power can’t be tapped into when government, cops, and fire officials are locked into a power struggle of trying to enforce their rules and regulations. It doesn’t work to say “there can be no fire risks” and leave people with no way to cook food, stay warm, or lift tents off muddy ground. It’s only by working in a spirit of respect and collaboration, a willingness to do things differently, that risks can meaningfully and seriously be reduced.

This is as true in pandemic times as any other times.

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