Urban survival map: Guide released for Regina’s homeless

The Carillon, Vol. 52, Issue 19 | March 3 – 9, 2010

[Image by Marc Spooner]

The streets are familiar, but this isn’t your everyday tourist map. The symbols point to emergency shelters, free food and clothing, and needle exchange locations. This is a survival map. It’s a guide that reveals a hidden side of Regina, and if you live on the streets and don’t know where to go to access social services, it may mean the difference between life and death.

“I wanted to help people whose daily life is a struggle for existence,” says Dr. Marc Spooner, a professor specializing in homelessness issues, who recently produced the second version of the City of Regina Survival Guide and Map. Spooner, along with research assistant Danielle Golden, put out the first version last year; it was the first time that Regina’s social services had been compiled in a convenient guide.

While helping the homeless is the key goal, Spooner hopes that the guide might produce additional benefits. “I hope to alleviate some of that pain and struggle,” Spooner says, “but it’s also intended to raise awareness for people who may not necessarily know what Regina looks like, that we have such poverty in Regina.”

Each release has produced 3,000 copies of the guide, so there are 6,000 copies currently circulating throughout Regina. The guide has spread far and wide as many individuals and organizations have requested copies. “Different individuals have asked for it – hospitals, police – individuals who work at institutions who come across them and request them from me. It’s also available at the public library [and] every level of government.” Spooner even leaves copies in bus stations. The guide can also be found online at leaderpost.com/pdf/Pamphletforpress.pdf.

The government of Canada sponsored the production of the first version through a grant, while the second version’s printing was paid for by the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS) Initiative, an organization that strives to establish a community-driven national information system for shelter service providers. The City of Regina helped with the layout of the map and Spooner compiles and updates the list of services for free.

Perhaps the most startling revelation of the guide is the physical extent of the needle exchange program, as there are five different locations for the service, including a van that circulates on a set schedule. “Regina gives out more needles per capita than Vancouver,” says Spooner. “We give out about 1.8 million needles a year, because the drug users here tend to use cocaine or crystal meth, and you use more needles in a run; it could be 20 needles a day. But it’s been very effective. The government in 2008 did a review … of the needle exchange program and it was overwhelmingly in support. And this was the Sask. Party government.

“For every million dollars spent on the needle exchange program, they’ve factored that it would save $4 million on health care costs to blood-borne diseases and other types of infections … This actually saves taxpayers money.”

Although Spooner is pleased that the guide is helping people find access to needed services, he laments the fact that the copies have been snapped up so quickly. Its success is in many ways an indicator of how serious the issues of poverty and homelessness are in Regina, and he hopes for a more coordinated effort by government to address the needs of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

“I hope that one day we won’t need the map,” he says. “It’s just a Band-Aid solution.”

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