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Type of submission: Oral
Conference track: Research
Topics: Homelessness, Housing and Harm Reduction; Women, Drug Use and Harm Reduction
Presenting author: Angela Hovey
Angela Hovey, Susan Scott, Kathy Willis
Women who experience domestic violence are more likely to use or become dependent on substances. Their health and safety can be at greater risk when domestic violence shelter policies prohibit admission of abused women, if impaired. The research examined the experience of women who accessed an Ontario women’s shelter that integrated a full harm reduction approach.
We conducted qualitative interviews with 25 women who had resided in the shelter since harm reduction approaches were implemented. Shelter staff identified a list of potential interviewees and made initial contact in reverse-chronological order of discharge date to inquire if the individual might participate in an interview. The researchers contacted those interested to provide further information, confirm interest, and arrange for an interview at the shelter. Child care services were provided. Also, transportation, refreshments, and an honorarium were given to each interviewee. Interviewees ranged from 24 to 70 years of age. Of these, 16 indicated using substances during their most recent stay and 15 had their children with them at the shelter.
Our thematic analysis of the transcripts found three major themes. 1) Benefits of an integrated harm reduction approach included that women who use substances feel safe, supported and are not judged about their use, and are offered safe use practices by staff. 2) Challenges included women experiencing triggers related to past trauma (e.g., abuser used during violence), substance cravings and relapse, and concern about children’s exposure. 3) Perceptions of staff management of harm reduction situations were mixed; sometimes supportive and sometimes unhelpful.
Harm reduction is an important approach to integrate within domestic violence shelters. The results of this study will be built upon to further examine and support Ontario domestic violence shelters to comply with Ministry standards to provide service for all women, including those who use substances.