Unconditionally safe: how the drug using community helps each other when healthcare services fail

While housing shelters and other care services neglect drug users in need, the non-judgmental support within the drug-using community is a vital lifeline

Why It Matters

From 2016 to 2021, Canada saw around 26,690 apparent opioid toxicity deaths. Without recognizing the power of peer support and non-judgement, many social service and community intervention organizations may be relying on outdated and colonial methods of doing their life-saving work.

This journalism is made possible by the Future of Good editorial fellowship on community resilience, supported by Co-operators. See our editorial ethics and standards here

Content warning: This story mentions drug addiction.

In the heart of Boston, between warehouses and industrial parks, lies the Mass and Cass neighbourhood. Often seen as a drab area by most locals, Brendan Little describes it as a place that “wasn’t designed for people to be there.” And yet, it’s become and continues to be home to a strong community of people who live in encampments, and many of whom use drugs. 

When Little was growing up in Boston, in a particularly dysfunctional family, he found solace in the streets — in areas like Mass and Cass. He found a community of kids in the downtown area who, l


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