International Journal of Drug Policy - 2014

Volume 25 Issue 3 May 2014

Issue link: http://digitalreprints.elsevier.com/i/364061

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612 R. McNeil et al. / International Journal of Drug Policy 25 (2014) 608–615 characterized by violence (e.g., alleyways, drug dealing loca- tions). These men attributed their geographical restrictions to the perceived quality of drugs (particularly heroin) sold by dealers in these areas. These men had limited or precarious sources of income (e.g., social assistance, recycling), and articulated how the need to maximize their drug purchases, together with the desire for intense intoxication, led them to seek out highly potent drugs and reliable dealers. While the local street-based drug market is most estab- lished along Hastings Street and west of Main Street, these men characterized the drugs sold in this area as "shitty" (i.e., having inconsistent potency), and several reported that they had previ- ously been "bunked" (i.e., sold counterfeit drugs) by dealers in that area. These men emphasized how the inferior quality of the drugs sold in these high intensity drug market locations left them with little reason to visit these areas. Our analysis of participant accounts and maps suggests that these concerns about "dope quality" served to allow these men to maintain claims to dominant forms of masculinity while enacting spatial strategies (i.e., avoiding violent drug market locations) that limited their exposure to violence. Even as men attributed their geographical restrictions to poor dope quality, their narratives of these drug scene milieus emphasized drug scene violence at the hands of violent men, and many feared further violence. For exam- ple, "Alex" was a thirty-something homeless man who regularly injected cocaine who had recently moved to Vancouver from East- ern Canada after hearing stories of the drug availability and quality in the DTES. He had been living in an emergency shelter for several months, and the intensity of his drug use patterns led him to quickly gain familiarity with the street-based drug scene. Alex indicated that drug dealers in several high intensity drug market locations sold "shitty dope", and that he avoided those areas. [Around the] bottle depot [located one block west of Insite], there is always a crowd of people [selling drugs]. There's about five—I don't know how many dealers. The dope is not that good. As a junkie, I want the best dope I can get for my money. However, interview and mapping data suggest that Alex was primarily motivated by the need to avoid violence in these drug scene milieus. Notably, Alex had experienced violent assault at the hands of drug dealers and male drug users in areas that he avoided and perceived to be unsafe (Fig. 2). For example: Two guys came to me. . .They punch me in the face and I'm laying down, and there's two pretty big guys and one says, "This is a fuck- ing controlled block." And pow! I get another one [punch] in the face. [It] pretty much knocked me out. They showed me their tat- toos and I'm pretty sure they're bikers because we don't buy from the [high intensity drug market location]. . .They want us to buy their dope. . . .Now, I'm a little scared of people that might want to rob me, that want to, like, fucking punch me out. I'm a tough man. I can fight too but I lost a lot of weight. Locating survival within the street-based drug scene Whereas gendered violence restricted the spaces occupied by women and marginal men, their accounts illustrated how they leveraged social resources to negotiate survival in the DTES. Sev- eral low-threshold housing programs (e.g., shelters, women-only housing), health care services (e.g., clinics, case management), and peer-run organizations (e.g., VANDU) operating east of Main Street figured prominently in participant accounts. Women and marginal men expressed that these were places where they could escape drug scene violence, with women emphasizing the importance of women-only spaces. The availability of these spaces was espe- cially important among homeless or unstably housed women and marginal men who otherwise lacked access to spaces in which they could escape drug scene violence. For example, "James", a home- less man who frequently injected cocaine, spoke of how he spent as much time as possible at a drop-in program: There's like 40 crack dealers down by the bottle depot. I feel way safer [at the drop-in program] because [there is] none of that action [i.e., drug scene violence]. . .I was there [drop-in program] at 10 o'clock this morning and I've been in there since. . .I think they should be open 24 hours. Many women and marginal men contrasted the areas immedi- ately surrounding these facilities with other drug scene milieus, and emphasized how the former were safer because of the additional environmental supports provided by these facilities, including reg- ulated indoor environments. Our analysis of participant accounts and maps further demon- strated that the availability of these environmental supports was critical in enabling women and marginal men to survive (e.g., Fig. 2. Map of Alex's spatial practices.

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