A community action team established in White Rock and South Surrey to prevent loss of life and other harms resulting from the toxic drug supply urges compassion in interactions with substance users.
The provincially-funded Tides of Change – represented by co-chairs Shauna Smith, public health nurse; George Passmore, manager of counselling and addiction services for Sources Community Resources Society, and project coordinator Matt Huot – were at White Rock city hall Feb. 27 to provide council an update on current initiatives.
But while there, they were encouraged by Coun. Elaine Cheung to deliver a direct message to local residents.
“What would you say to the public who see someone on the street, and they don’t think they should be there, and they’re, like, can we call the police and get rid of them – what would you say to that person to educate them?” she asked.
“I think that, first and foremost, (it) is when you regard another human being – let’s start there,” Passmore said.
“This is a fellow human being – (we need) to have the compassion that imagines that there’s a human pathway that brought that person to that moment.
“…It’s when people are seen with dignity, and respect, and there’s a care for their life and their worth, then there’s a possibility for that person to feel a part of and care about the community they’re in. Then you’re in a relationship.”
Passmore said the team knows of one individual in such a situation who was homeless for 16 years – and it took months of team peers connecting with him before he decided he could succeed living off the streets.
“He’s housed for the first time in 16 years, and it took that relationship development, over time, and trusting our intentions,” he said.
One of a series of community action teams across the province, established in response to the opioid crisis, Tides of Change has been in operation since 2018, Smith said.
“Our team priorizes community-based and peer-led initiatives to bring awareness to stigma associated with substance use, and to educate on harm-reduction practices to keep people safe when using substances,” Smith noted.
Huot said the team partners with many organizations and groups in the area, including the City of White Rock, Fraser Health, White Rock Fire and White Rock RCMP.
Among initiatives have been a community dialogue with first responders, and people with lived/or living experiences, Huot said, “to come together and talk about issues around substance use and the support that people can get in the community.”
Passmore said that, in the seventh year of the crisis, it seems to show no sign of abating.
“Death due to toxic drug poisoning remains the largest cause of preventable death in our province, by far,” he said.
“Six British Columbians are dying on a daily basis.”
One of the biggest issues is not simply that the drug supply is changing, he said.
“People who are most vulnerable to this are people who feel otherwise disconnected. They lack belonging, and struggle to find a sense of worth and purpose in themselves, and in their communities.”
Passmore said it is very important to “reduce stigma, to support a community that has compassion and can engage with care with people who are vulnerable.”
But he said the biggest risk is not necessarily to people who are living outside, but to people who are using substances alone in their residences.
“The best way to reduce barriers is to have people with lived experience going out into the community and connecting with people that they would consider their peers.”
A grant from Peace Arch Hospital Foundation has enabled Tides of Change to create a first peer support network in the community, he added.
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