You can be the most forward-thinking, inclusive human being on this planet and still find yourself clutching your bag closer when a man who looks drug-affected sits next to you on the train, or averting your eyes to the homeless person sitting on the street because you’re worried he’ll be aggressive to you for no apparent reason.
It’s so hard to talk about these topics because we are often embarrassed or ashamed at these deep seated prejudices and inbuilt cautions we have. So we pretend like we don’t do these things, or we placate ourselves through other acts of kindness to people who are ‘easier’ to engage with. As a woman I think I am particularly conscientious of the way others are behaving around me in public spaces (especially at night or when I’m alone with one or two other people) and we are all aware that there is an absolute, statistical necessity for this sense of self-preservation. But even though my own behaviour on the streets may not shift, when I consider the work of Professor Ingrid van Beek it does make me reflect on what other social and clinical supports we could put in place for those people in need of help.
Ingrid has spent 30 years assisting the drug affected, the homeless and the sex workers of Sydney. Ingrid was the Director of the Kirketon Road Centre until 2017, where she aided people in the King’s Cross region, offering them safe sex supplies and a safe injecting space, as well as much more [see the various links at bottom of this piece for more]. In Australia we have a very hard time ‘leaning in’ to people who sit on the fringes of our society. It’s normal to hear people saying things like ‘they did that to themselves’ and ‘what did they expect sleeping out in the street?’ I think sometimes it’s easier to be angry at these people because then we don’t have to inconvenience ourselves or consider what we could be doing to solve the problem. It’s often only when someone either runs into an addiction themselves and comes out the other side, or has a close friend or family member suffer from addiction before the conversation becomes more about ‘assisting’.
I understand that as a health professional and someone who is medically trained to treat people Ingrid would see peoples’ experience with drugs, homelessness and unsafe sex differently to the general population. But I don’t think it’s so hard to understand her viewpoint. Dr Marianne Jauncey, who took over the role of Director from Ingrid, says ‘what I see is an extremely helpful, effective way of practicing good medicine — not seeing a problem but seeing a person.’ This is the intention behind the practice. To give people another chance despite their drug reliance or situation.
I understand that just because we can understand, respect and appreciate these words, that it doesn’t translate to a change in our own behaviour or feelings. But it does help me think about my own feelings on this subject. It helps me recognise my own privilege and fortune for not winding up in a similar situation to what the people accessing this clinic are in. It also helps me see the need for more locations such as this clinic, and for support for people like Ingrid to get in to these jobs.
If you are suffering from addiction and would like to talk to somebody you can start here:
- Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) 1300 85 85 84
- List of various services – http://www.drugs.health.gov.au/internet/drugs/publishingcp.nsf/content/needhelp
- Family Drug Support Online – http://www.fdsonline.org.au/
Thank you to the following sites: