Spotlight on: Aaron Bailey

Name: Aaron Bailey

My name is Aaron Bailey and I’m a first year MSc student in Health Promotion working with Dr. Jeff Masuda. Prior to starting my graduate work with CEHE, I completed an undergraduate degree in Health Studies with an Arts minor in Political Studies at Queen’s and within the School of Kinesiology and Health. You might say that I’ve been hanging around the department for quite a while!

Q1: What you do with CEHE (ex; projects, research interests)

I’ve been involved with a few projects at CEHE, but my own research focuses on the history of alcohol policy in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and how that history can be used to support present-day alcohol harm reduction activism. There is a dire need for increased access to peer-led alcohol harm reduction in the neighbourhood today, and my work so far has been guided by the incredible advocacy efforts of the Eastside Illicit Drinkers Group for Education (EIDGE) and the Drinkers Lounge Community Managed Alcohol Program (Drinkers Lounge).     Harm reduction is largely absent from government policy outputs related to alcohol control in Vancouver, which typically take a very population-level and supply-side approach to reducing alcohol related harm. This approach to reducing alcohol-related harm does not work for everyone, and can actually cause harm to people who are dependent on alcohol and use non-beverage alcohol. Historically, alcohol policy in Vancouver and throughout B.C. has also prioritized social control over the protection of public health and perpetuated the many harms of violent settler colonialism. Despite this, the demands of alcohol harm reduction advocates in the community, which largely come from people with lived experience and emphasize more radical forms of harm reduction, are rarely taken up and scaled by local public health authorities and government actors working in this area. In partnership with EIDGE and Drinkers Lounge, I would like to learn about the present-day disconnect between what alcohol policy in the Downtown Eastside looks like and what drinkers themselves have demanded, and trace this tension back into history in order to better understand how it can be intervened on.

My own work is probably best described as a spin-off of The Right to Remain (R2R), a participatory research project led by Dr. Masuda in partnership with the DTES SRO-Collaborative Society. The R2R uses history, art and activism to advance tenant’s rights to safe and healthy housing in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which is largely Single Room Occupancy Hotels (SROs) that have been made unsafe by decades of neglect and policy non-enforcement. Through my time at CEHE I’ve assisted in the collection and analysis of archival materials to support the work of the R2R and learned a great deal about the power of history and the sharing of archival knowledge to bring people together in support of grassroots health-related activism in the community. This experience allowed me to pursue and write my honours thesis in Health Studies with Dr. Masuda in 2020, “Back to my room / And, the bottle.”: Historical Perspectives of Alcohol Problematization, Control and Harm Reduction in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside” in 2020. I continue to support the R2R’s work through research support and my own investigation of the long history of housing as harm reduction in the DTES.

Before either of these things, I actually started working with the CEHE team in 2018 as a third year undergraduate student enrolled in HLTH 352! This experience allowed me to earn course credit toward my degree while assisting with an ongoing project in the lab and learning the ropes of the research process. I was lucky enough to help to support Dr. Erica Phipp’s PhD research, which involved working alongside tenant co-researchers to improve intersectoral capacity to respond to the housing needs of low-income tenants in Owen Sound. This was a formative experience of my undergrad and introduced me to critically-oriented health promotion research. After this, I also worked for CEHE as a Student Archival Research Coordinator through the Summer Work Experience Program, which really set the stage for my involvement with the R2R team, my honours thesis and my eventual graduate work.

Q: Have you picked up and new hobbies since working from home?

Although it hasn’t done me much good through this long Kingston winter, I would have to say that getting more into golf throughout the spring, summer and fall brought me a lot of happiness (and an equal amount of frustration). Spending hours outside with good friends while we all worked to achieve our own individual goals throughout the season was very rewarding. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the snow melting.

Q: What is your favourite place to study since working from home?

Here’s a picture of my current workspace in Kingston. Despite the long hours spent here, I enjoy having such a spacious and accessible spot in my current house to write, leaf through archives and grade. My favourite part about this space is probably the two pictures that hang above my desk, both of which are prints by Wendy Stewart purchased from the DTES Street Market on Hastings. It’s nice to be able to look at these paintings of Vancouver throughout the day as I work away from across the country (for the time being).