Urban renewal, drug related disorder and displacement: implications for health and HIV risk behaviour among injection drug using populations

It is estimated that 269,000 Canadians have injected drugs in the past year; statistics reveal that almost 20 per cent of all newly-recorded HIV infections are associated with injection drug use. High risk behaviours associated with injection drug use have made injection drug user populations especially vulnerable to HIV infection. This is particularly evident in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which has experienced an explosive HIV epidemic among local injection drug users. For several years, this neighbourhood has felt the effects of new developments squeezing out older, low-income housing. This ongoing revitalization of Canada’s poorest postal code will soon be coupled with the upcoming 2010 Olympics. It is also expected that targeted policy interventions will be initiated to reduce the appearance of public disorder, particularly open illicit drug scenes. The implications for current residents are significant. The coming years have the potential to bring a massive displacement of injection drug users out of the Downtown Eastside, away from where most of their health and social services are currently situated. Kora DeBeck is monitoring how public policy changes related to urban revitalization affect risky behaviours and health among injection drug users. She is analyzing data from established cohort studies, which currently follow more than 2,000 injection drug users. Not only will DeBeck’s work help local policy makers respond to changing health service needs within Vancouver, it will also inform other cities experiencing similar urban transitions.