On the road with Local Leadership United

By: Dakota Fayant-McLeod – Communications Coordinator

Recognizing the critical role local governments play in community-level conversations and community health, Local Leadership United (LLU) aims to support local governments (particularly elected officials) engage with local community overdose response.

To date, there have been 32 LLU regional dialogues across BC. These dialogue workshops focus on education and relationship building, with the hope that what is learned and shared can be a spark that can grow into an inclusive, whole-community response to the overdose/toxic drug supply crisis.

Since January 2024, I have been working with the CAI LLU team to coordinate a monthly network meeting for LLU dialogue alumni. This monthly network meeting aims to give previous attendees the opportunity to continue to be engaged and connected with LLU’s goals. Coordinating these monthly meetings has granted me not only the privilege to learn from the expertise of my coworkers Janine Stevenson, Andrea Derban and Noah Chalifoux, but it has also given me the opportunity to learn about the work and experiences of BC local government officials and their important work around whole community overdose crisis response.

During the first week of May, I had the privilege of attending two LLU sessions in-person for the first time. The first session took place at the Southern Interior Local Government Association Conference in Kamloops, and the second session at the Lower Mainland Local Government Association Conference in Whistler. I jumped at the opportunity to be able to attend to witness firsthand how a LLU dialogue unfolds, and to learn from my co-workers and event attendees.

An important element of the LLU dialogue room is “what’s shared here stays here, what’s learned here leaves here”, so with this respect for privacy in mind, I hope to broadly share what I have witnessed.

The first thing that became apparent to me is that these sessions are very dynamic, and that my hope to witness a “typical” LLU network meeting was not going to happen. Each session is different, and being responsive to attendees’ needs and goals means that conversations can and will change as needed.

The first session was an atypical two-hour session taking place at the Southern Interior Local Government Association Conference. As LLU dialogues are usually full-day workshops, the LLU team worked to ensure that as much information could be shared with attendees in the two-hour time slot, while still making room for important conversations to take place.

The second presentation at the Lower Mainland Local Government Association Conference was even more compact – Andrea presented a short Unregulated Drug Poisoning Crisis 101 to a room of 200+ local government officials before she went on to facilitate a panel of 5 local leaders about their community’s and/or their profession’s overdose response efforts.

On Tuesday April 30th, the B.C. government’s request to recriminalize the use of illicit drugs in public spaces was approved, creating an urgency for the team to ensure that the most up to date and accurate information would be shared at the presentation. The ensuing dialogue resulted in important discussions about how the policy will affect unhoused people, about evidence and care, and about how to navigate polarizing conversations.

The session began with a simple question: What do we hope for this session?

The answers were broad and varied, but a few can be captured as:

  • To learn about public safety and Local Governments
  • To learn about the roll of local governments in community well-being, while acknowledging that healthcare is not the job of the local government
  • To gather innovative and creative solutions to the toxic drug crisis
  • To gather new ideas to promote community wellness in general
  • To learn different ways of speaking and how to navigate polarizing language around substance use
  • To gain hope

My colleagues led the room through the history, statistics, stories, and the best evidence-informed responses to the Unregulated Drug Poisoning Crisis, acknowledging that it is sometimes difficult to determine fact from fiction.

Attendees held a spectrum of opinions and understandings, but the unifying factor was that everyone in the room was there to learn and connect.

Although conversations about the toxic drug crisis are often fraught and difficult, I left the room with a sense of gratitude – I am so grateful for the local government members who showed up and were open to sharing and learning with others to support their community, and for my co-workers who attend to this work with humility and curiosity. The topic of the toxic drug supply crisis is multilayered and complex, and no single person has all the answers. However complex, engaging and listening is something we can all do, and it is a good first step.

Local Leadership United Dialogues will continue to take place through December 2024. If you would like to learn more about Local Leadership United, click here. For more information on how to bring a dialogue to your community, please reach out to Noah Chalifoux, Project Manager – Community Development/Local Leadership United.