Who we are
The Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team is an organization of health providers and community organizers working to integrate clinical practice, critical analysis and political action. We are an interdisciplinary outreach team providing community centred care to people for whom conventional health service models present too many barriers to access. We believe that as health care providers we must recognize and take responsibility for our own historical and contemporary roles in systems of oppression. We work to advance the idea and practice that health is inherently political and health care providers must play a role in bringing about change in the social and material conditions which determine health.
Mission & Vision
To address the social determination of health through integrated community centred care, education, research and political organizing.
Healthcare that is a liberatory force for patients, practitioners, and communities alike.
Health is political.
At HAMSMaRT, our relationships with one another, the people and organizations that we work with are foundational to the better world we are building together. We see part of our work toward justice as divesting of the long abused power vested in health workers, instead leveraging our skills and privilege in solidarity with our patients and in support of the work of individuals and organizations building community and collective power. This effort to collapse hierarchies and build true trust based connection runs through all of our guiding principles.
- CENTRING THE SOCIAL DETERMINATION OF HEALTH
- COMMUNITY CENTRED CARE
- RECIPROCAL LEARNING
- HARM REDUCTION
- BUILDING THE COMMUNITY WE WANT TO LIVE IN
Connection is the antithesis of commodification and at the heart of a truly transformative politics.
– Harsha Walia (South Asian activist and writer based in Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish Territories)
For HAMSMaRT, providing Community Centred Care means being an integrated and reflexive part of the Hamilton community. We aim to make our work of and for the community, by bringing people into our work and participating in that of others. By being a part of our community, not outside of it, we come to know people as people, not patients, humanizing instead of othering.
While we all have different experiences and social positions, we believe that everyone has the expertise, the power and the ability to define and work toward individual and collective health. As an organization, we set our priorities, and implement our programming, and community organizing with those most impacted by injustice. This approach is both pragmatic and ethical. Together we create interventions that work at an individual and societal level and we become accountable to the community to which we belong, not to funder priorities or health and social service institutions (with long histories of causing harm to those they purport to serve).
The teaching must begin with solving the teacher/student contradiction, by reconciling the opposite poles, so that both parts are both teachers and students at the same time. And in such a manner that the students’ creative ability isn’t belittled or destroyed, and their credibility enhanced.
– Paulo Freire (Brazilian educator and critical theorist, 1921-1977)
HAMSMaRT is committed to ways of learning and knowing that collapse the knowledge hierarchies that dominate and constrain Western medicine. We learn daily from our experiences, each other, from our patients and colleagues, and from our community. We value the expertise, strength, adaptability, and knowledge of communities who have been experiencing and fighting oppression. We strive to document, model and share what we learn through formal and informal avenues as part of our commitment to systemic change.
Our love of learning and sharing propels in us a commitment to individual and organizational reflection, growth, and adaptation to the world around us. We are committed to ongoing reflection about how our social locations and lived experiences inform the lens through which we do our work. It also compels us to move away from Eurocentric ideas of health and health care provision. We look to existing alternative models that center people over capital and give rise to a totally different orientation and set of possibilities which are inspirational and life affirming.
Harm reduction creates hope.
– Marcie McIlveen (HAMSMaRT Program Director)
With its roots in various struggles for social justice, harm reduction is a movement led by people who use drugs (PWUD), in defence of their own dignity and humanity. Harm reduction is a pragmatic and philosophical approach that aims to humanely reduce the negative effects of drug use – which largely result from drug policy, systemic oppression, and disenfranchisement. PWUD are experts of their own lives. We resist the coercive and punitive ethic that PWUD have come to know in health and social services. Instead we walk alongside people, in solidarity, respecting their choices, listening, and working together to reduce the harms associated with drug use.
Harm reduction is most closely and often associated with drug use, but harm reduction is also about how we work as an organization and individuals at HAMSMaRT. We understand that everyone makes choices that are constrained by our social, economic, political, and physical contexts. Harm reduction guides our clinical and collective decision making at HAMSMaRT, especially when no choice in front of us seems like a good one. Personal and political change is long, hard work. On the road to liberation we address the urgent need to reduce harms to individuals and communities by agitating and advocating for improvements to inherently harmful systems (like health and social services) that people need to survive now.
We are what we do, especially what we do to change what we are.
– Eduardo Galeano (Uruguayan journalist, writer and novelist, 1940-2015)
At HAMSMaRT, working to dismantle systems that make people sick also means building together the communities we want to live in with hope and joy. It means not waiting for those currently vested with the power to bring about transformative change, because they have neither the political will nor imagination to do so.
The principles that steer our work in community also guide the ways we work internally at HAMSMaRT. We learn from and challenge each other, leaning into and celebrating each other’s strengths. We leave no one behind. We see boundaries as a critical part of our work. Setting clear expectations and taking responsibility for our own and each other’s needs allows us to show up for each other and our community sustainably.
All of our work at HAMSMaRT is grounded in and propelled by a deep and abiding love for people, community and justice. We strive to live that in all that we do.