Central Okanagan Community Action Team

It comes down to PEOPLE

Formed in:  2018
Number of members:  18
Communities served:  

Name of Town: Kelowna,  West Kelowna,  Lake Country,  

Unique features:

A diverse group, taking a solutions-oriented approach

A Q&A with Jen Casorso of the Central Okanagan CAT.

“Indigenous culture is not an add-on, but works as a guide, embedded in our approach,” – Jen Casorso, CAT Coordinator

The Community Action Initiative team sat down with Jen Casorso, CAT Coordinator to discuss the evolutions, learnings and proud moments experienced while working with the Central Okanagan CAT.

CAI: How are people with lived or living experience with substance use (PWLLE) involved in the CAT?
Jen Casorso (JC): One of the big developments of the CAT was the formation of an employment and life skills empowerment program called Paid Employment for People with Lived Experience (PEOPLE). PEOPLE really came together through the engagement of a variety of community members with lived or living experience with substance use. What ended up materializing was an education and training initiative where a cohort went through a training module and came out with the ability to participate in meaningful employment opportunities.
    Some of the early supporters of PEOPLE were the City of Kelowna and Interior Health. The City of Kelowna was keen on having a public washroom downtown, which first opened up in 2019, and it’s now operated by PEOPLE’s Connect. Peers are employed through PEOPLE to staff the kiosk at PEOPLE’s Connect. The City of Kelowna also has additional employment opportunities through PEOPLE, such as contracts with BC Housing, or COVID response roles. PEOPLE’s Connect not only connects with PWLLE but also the broader community. It plays a role whereby they can increase people’s level of knowledge around substance use, which is hopefully contributing to a reduction in stigma among the community.
CAI: Can you tell us more about your Indigenous Peer Navigator program?
JC: The Peer Navigator Program has a substantial Indigenous component. We’re working with an Indigenous consultant to develop a curriculum for organizations, as well as support the roles of peer navigators to connect with local Indigenous culture. Peer navigators act as fantastic support systems within organizations where people are coming to access health and support services and will be placed in social serving organizations. Ones that have not typically been able to provide outreach supports to individuals experiencing vulnerable circumstances, such as the library or recreation Centres. The intent will be to support additional and deeper connections with individuals accessing these facilities and connect them with Indigenous cultural healing opportunities.
    There are a few components to the program including capacity building, to support individuals interested in a peer navigator role – offering training and education. Indigenous peers receive a 6 to 8-week part-time training with multiple facilitators. This includes: non-violent communications training, sessions about boundaries and responding to people experiencing trauma, Indigenous histories, harm reduction philosophies – both western and Indigenous, drum making, making medicine bags, and more. Then, we work with organizations to determine what services they provide, and how the peer navigators can be integrated into their organization. Indigenous culture is not an add-on, but works as a guide, embedded in our approach. The City of Kelowna is also supporting this. They applied for the grant on behalf of the community.
CAI: What are one or two successes your CAT has been able to achieve or celebrate?
JC: As a CAT, we are so proud of PEOPLE. It continues to fill a pretty big gap in the community in terms of how people obtain employment and feel like they’re supported in their employment. And the fact that it has become its own non-profit and is working with a diverse group of organizations to hire peers is a really great success.
    I would also say having support of the City of Kelowna is also a success. In other communities, the local government participation is much more limited or non-existent. The City of Kelowna really understands there are a bunch of systems at play when it comes to addressing issues of substance use, and while they might not be the ones in a direct response role, they have a role to play. If they understand the issues, they can advocate better.
CAI: If you were to give one piece of advice to a new CAT, what would it be?
JC: Cultivating relationships across diverse community partners is really important. It’s not only important to have partnerships with one sector, you need to look at all the relationships across different sectors in your community, so you can leverage those at times when you need them.





Urban Matters

Read Publication

BC mobilizes 'Community Action Teams' to areas hit hardest by overdose crisis



Kelowna Now

Read Publication

Province announces $3.5 million in funding for community solutions to overdose crisis



Parksville Qualicum Beach News

Read Publication

Related Communities