Since March 2019, Tuk Gordon has been cleaning up garbage and needles and handing out snacks in an effort he dubbed as YXE Harm Reduction.
This is not the first project of its kind. Gordon initially found this calling after volunteering with a friend on an initiative called Saskatoon Cares. Inspired by this project and armed with a few ideas for improvements, Gordon started YXE Harm Reduction.
Gordon describes it as a self-driven, community outreach project that focuses on snack handouts and needle and trash clean up. A needle exchange is also provided.
“I don’t work out of anywhere. It’s just either my vehicle or what I carry,” says Gordon. “I’m able to kind of hang around and slither into spaces that normal people who do any kind of outreach can’t.”
After spending time in Pleasant Hill and Riversdale, Gordon saw that there was a real need for the services he was providing. The problems he was seeing aren’t specific to Saskatoon.
Canada is currently facing an opioid crisis that is being called one of the worst public health crises in our country’s history. More than 10,000 Canadians have died from apparent opioid-related overdoses just between January 2016 and September 2018.
Until very recently, there has been a lack of public services to help those who struggle with drug addiction. The stigma surrounding drug users fuels the public’s apathy to their problems. However, in an enormous step forward, Saskatoon is set to open Saskatchewan’s first and only safe consumption site in July 2020.
Such a facility would provide a safe, hygienic and supervised area for the consumption of drugs. With resources such as sterile equipment, naloxone — a medication that is administered in case of overdose — and connections to housing and health services, safe consumption sites can provide the care that long-time drug users need to restart their lives.
Gordon finds that people tend to respect him more when they find out that he isn’t affiliated with any organization.
“A lot of people eventually find out that everything that I do out there is [voluntary] and is on my own time,” said Gordon. “And I think I just kind of get that different level of appreciation and respect.”
Being a completely volunteer-driven enterprise, YXE Harm Reduction currently has no stable source of funding.
“The number one question [I get] is how is this funded. It’s not. The previous organization that I was volunteering with … raised a decent sum of money … and that’s kind of what has kept this afloat,” Gordon said.
The initiative has been relying entirely on contributions from the community and local businesses such as The Better Good, Fable Ice Cream, Modo Yoga Saskatoon and a few others. Gordon takes both monetary and non-perishable food donations.
“Doing the garbage and the needles is really easy. It’s all the other stuff that’s kind of tricky. Like I’ve run out of money and snacks, and am always sourcing out things to give out.”
In August, Gordon began working at AIDS Saskatoon as a drop-in supervisor. He plans on continuing his efforts with YXE Harm Reduction but knows that doing both of these will require a delicate balance. Moving forward, he is looking into making his outreach more of a planned endeavour instead of heading out whenever he could.
With the safe consumption site opening up and efforts being made to destigmatize people who use drugs, a path is being paved towards a more accepting and empathetic society.
To reach out to YXE Harm Reduction, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tomilola Ojo/ Culture Editor
Photo: Victoria Becker/ Photo Editor