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Ben Scher - Ph. D. Research Project on Drug Policy


I've been a part of a few different initiatives throughout my time living in Vancouver. At the moment, I’m back in the UK having just finished doing research as part of my Ph.D. project, but the entry point into the world of drug policy and homelessness started when I was in high school actually. There was a charity called The Alley Outreach Project that would come to the school, and grades 10 to 12 would raise money and do clothing and food drives. Then, once every other month, we would go to the Downtown Eastside and participate in handing stuff out. So, that was really kind of my introduction to this type of work. After that, I went to university in the UK, where I am originally from, at a place called Durham, and then back to Canada and did a Master's at the University of Waterloo. 

I started looking at policing practices in the Downtown Eastside and how police responded to people who accessed supervised consumption sites. It was really here that I fell in love with not just the process of conducting research but also doing community-engaged research. After I finished my Master's, I stayed in Vancouver for a year and a half working for an organization called the Lookout Health and Housing Society.

I worked in shelters and day centers and supervised consumption sites for a while, and then moved back to the UK and started working for a homelessness outreach team in London. After a year or so I got accepted into my Ph.D. program at Oxford, which for a long time had

been a dream of mine. I’m now half way through my Ph.D. project which is comparing the lived experience of people who use drugs in street-based settings. I’m comparing three cities: Birmingham in the UK, Vancouver in Canada, and Athens in Greece with the aim of using this comparison to draw out best practices and potential lessons from each cities

approach.


Growing up in Vancouver, I think from a young age I started to wonder what different forces

come together to create such visible political, economic, and social inequality in a city that

markets itself as one of the most prosperous and equitable in the world. Something I have

come to realize is that there’s so much scaremongering and misinformation around solutions

that goes on in the media, so I think there's a lot of fear from the outside that really is

misdirected, and think I inadvertently I have always just really wanted to try and understand

that a little bit better. 


My first year working at supervised consumption sites in the Downtown Eastside was super memorable for me because you hear so much about these types of centers in the media, but

when started to work with people, you really get to see that these are actually places of compassion, empathy, and healthcare. They're not places where drug use is enabled and facilitated as is so often portrayed. So, it really did open my eyes to what community organizing and proper healthcare for people outside of hospital settings could look like.

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