Cowichan Community Action Team

Collaboration, teamwork, and relationship-building

Formed in:  2016
Number of members:  210
Communities served:  

Name of Town: Duncan,  Cowhichan Valley,  

Unique features:

Identifying key challenges across the social determinants of health, working under the Collective Impact Principles of Practice to facilitate depth and trust of the relationships with partners.

A Q&A with Cindy Lise and Cailey Foster of the Duncan CAT (Cowichan Valley Community Action Team).

“It’s not what we’ve done, it’s how. It’s about collaborating, teamwork, and relationship building that has brought so many resources to our community that didn’t exist before.” – Cindy Lise, CAT Coordinator

Members of the Community Action Initiative team sat down with Cindy Lise, CAT Coordinator and Facilitator, and Cailey Foster, Cowichan CAT Peer Coordinator, to discuss the evolution, learnings, and proud moments experienced while working with Duncan CAT. Here’s what they had to say.

CAI: How does your CAT work with, or engage with, Indigenous communities?
Cindy Lise (CL): In Cowichan, we weave together representatives from all positions within the Cowichan tribes as the thread of community partners. We stay connected virtually with some of our more remote communities who participate online. Our Vision for Community Wellness is inclusive of our First Nation community members and was a plan created in part by peers and community partners to envision what we believe a healthy community to be. It included housing and wrap-around supports – Indigenous designed, culturally appropriate, human rights appropriate, COVID-safe, and family oriented. We were able to get funding to provide housing for over 100 community partners.
CAI: Can you provide some more details on this initiative?
CL: It was the peers, in the earlier work of our CAT, who identified the kind of support that they would like – small simple housing pods –, access to wrap-around supports, and at the time, the desire for a safe supply. Our community, via the work of the COVID crisis response funding and the Provincial Government, created a small working task force lead by Co-Chairs Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples and John Horn from Cowichan Housing Association that designed the small community sites and worked with BC Housing to access funding to get people housed safely within a local hotel. The goal every step of the way was to ensure the success of the initiative. So matching the right people to the right kind of shelter – hotel and tenting sites – security, outreach, food, and other wrap-around supports all help contribute to the success of the initiative.
CAI: How does your CAT work with, or engage with, people with lived or living experience with substance use (PWLLE)?
CL: Working with peers, we created what we called the family pods or family sites. This started out with tents and, we’ve transitioned to wooden sleeping pods so it’s really exciting. The COVID temporary shelter task force worked with Cowichan Housing Association, the United Way and Reaching Home funding, and advocated for funding to transition weathered tents into wooden sleeping structures. In 2020, 12 were set up at the St. Julien Site, 12 for Cowichan Tribes and 12 for a youth – under 24 years old – site also on Cowichan Tribes land. Each small community of a dozen has an additional cabin for support staff. The cabins were made locally in Chemainus and are all now in place with the people who were in tents now moved into the huts. Each is insulated, has a window, locking door, light, electrical plug and wooden sleeping platform with storage space below. This has helped stabilize our community members even more.
CAI: What are one or two successes your CAT has been able to achieve or celebrate?
CL: We’ve accomplished a lot and one of the things that I share most often is that it’s not what we’ve done, it’s how. It’s about collaborating, teamwork, and relationship building that has brought so many resources to our community that didn’t exist before. In May 2016, when the overdose crisis was first declared a public health emergency, we had almost nothing. We have the sharps team, OAT in a broader sense of the community, opioid dialogues. We have a stigma exhibit that was created by the peers. There’s just so much that we’ve done since 2016. It’s not the what, but the how, and we’re going to keep doing that.
CAI: If you were to give one piece of advice to a new CAT, what would you say?
Cailey Foster:
    For a Peer Coordinator, I would recommend being flexible. Every single person has so much to offer and a capacity to help. I haven’t met a person who doesn’t want to help. Let people take part on their terms, when they can, how they can. That might mean some days there’s no one, and that’s okay. Because other days, lots of people are ready and willing to take part.
    Having a forum where we all meet together and learn about each other each month has been instrumental in building the knowledge, trust, and relationships required to work together. This has been challenging during COVID – not being able to meet in person – but we have kept up our monthly sessions throughout the pandemic. We’ve had over 40 community representatives on a single call.
Open your door – invite as many people on board as you can, with as many diverse perspectives. Because you learn from each other, and even though you may think somebody is an adversary or in a different place, it’s because of that you can learn. That is the way we can really accomplish great things.

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