Substance Use Community Needs
The MIND Program is a grassroots initiative begun by residents and medical service providers at 682 Warden Avenue, a Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) building in southwest Scarborough. This building houses 224 people, three-quarters of whom have been housed here following a period of homelessness. This community includes many vulnerable individuals including many who use substances. The MIND program sees the harms of substance use on individuals and the community -- these include transmission of infectious diseases, malnutrition, eviction, conflict, violence, poor health, unremitting poverty, social isolation, and premature death among others. While the City of Toronto, and the provincial and federal governments have all committed to increasing services for people who use drugs, most of the services being provided are located in the downtown area. There is no evidence yet that these services will be expanded to areas already under-serviced and under-resourced like this part of Scarborough.
In 2016, the MIND program applied to the City of Toronto’s Urban Health Fund for money to assess the substance use needs at 682 Warden and a nearby TCHC building at 40 Firvalley Court. Our long-term hope was to be able to provide accessible and confidential harm reduction programming and resources to members of this community. A comprehensive needs assessment was the necessary starting point from which to better understand the needs of those members of the community who use substances. An accurate understanding of the needs of this population would help the MIND program to develop and deliver effective programming as well as partner with appropriate agencies and resources in the wider community.
Funding was approved and an assessment coordinator was hired in August 2016 for a one-year project. The focus of this needs assessment was to gather accurate, candid information from residents with lived experience of drug use. Therefore, research strategies were built to get the most feedback from community members as possible. To garner feedback from the community, 61 paper surveys were completed with residents, 17 one-on-one interviews were conducted, and two focus groups were held. Five informal key informant interviews were also held with people who provide services in the community, such as community health centres, harm reduction services and pharmacists.
The only prerequisite for residents to participate in the needs assessment was that the person identified as a person who uses drugs. Two peer workers were recruited to help engage residents and to provide crucial feedback on questions being asked in the survey, interviews and focus groups. Within the research activities, there was equal representation of residents of 682 Warden and 40 Firvalley.
Results of the assessment were presented to the community in July 2017 and published in a report in September 2017 which was distributed to the MIND board and several local agencies for review and action. Since then the MIND board has looked for ways to implement a community-based harm reduction approach using resources within these large residential buildings to address the needs identified in the assessment. The kitchens which supply the community meal program are already hubs for the buildings with trusted staff and volunteers. They already help address the need for food security identified in the assessment. Now we are examining how they might also be involved in the supply of Naloxone, clean equipment and sharps disposal.
682 Warden Avenue
40 Firvalley Court