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