Nanaimo Community Action Team

The importance of peer involvement.

Formed in:  2015
Communities served:  

Name of Town: Nanaimo,  

Unique features:

Innovative community-led projects through grant giving, and a medical outreach van. Community collaboration is the key.

A Q&A with Tanis Dagert of the Nanaimo CAT.

“Involve peers as soon as you can. It’s not easy work, but they are the ones who are connecting to people who use drugs in the community, and these are the people we’re trying to connect to and save,” – Tanis Dagert, CAT Facilitator

Members of the Community Action Initiative team sat down with Tanis Dagert, CAT facilitator to discuss the evolution, learnings, and proud moments experienced while working with the Nanaimo CAT. Here’s what she had to say.

CAI: How did the Nanaimo CAT initially form?
Tanis Dagert (TD): It all started with a really strong social planner at the City of Nanaimo who was a champion for overdose prevention. In 2015, we formed a working group developed by the Medical Health Officer. The initial group included RCMP, bylaw officers, and people in the health sector. The City of Nanaimo wrote the application to receive the CAI grant funds, and the working group became the CAT. That initial working group informed the whole provincial response to overdose, and in many ways, spearheaded what CATs across the province would become.
CAI: How are people with lived and living experience with substance use involved in your CAT?
TD: The CAT budget provided some funding for facilitation but also some funding for SOLID, which is a non-profit organization that provides peer-based health education and support services to reduce the harms associated with drug use. Funding awarded to SOLID supported them to develop a new peer-led group in Nanaimo called New Leaf Outreach. That group received funds for peer-led harm reduction work in the community and developed into a non-profit. While New Leaf Outreach no-longer operates, many of the peers who were involved have continued the work in several subgroups. For example, one of the peers is now spearheading the Nanaimo chapter of the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, while others have started peer groups, or peer outreach services. It continues to evolve with similar players, and the Nanaimo CAT continues to support these peers with funding to operate.
    We supported a peer-led group to start up a meal bag program, and they have totally blossomed. They are opening up a soup-kitchen, and working with city planners to set it up. It’s been pretty incredible, what a little bit of money can do.
    Our work and engagement with PWLLE has evolved from peers doing a lot of the street outreach and harm reduction tasks. Peers are now looking toward other opportunities like communications, supporting other peers, and advocating. Some of the peers are working with a medical van.
CAI: Can you tell us more about the medical van project?
TD: Members of our CAT formed a working group that included peers and a physician from the Nanaimo division of family practice. Together, they spearheaded this initiative, and were successful in getting funds for the van. The peers inform the peer-oriented part of the service. The medical van is staffed with doctors, nurses, and peers, and goes out into the community four days a week and provides primary care in places where it’s most needed – like the community showers, shelters, and parking lots in town. It’s totally great, and it’s looking like it will evolve into what they call a primary care network, where all community-based primary healthcare providers collaboratively provide patient-centred, team-based, and culturally-safe care.
CAI: Can you share a time you’ve been proud to be a part of this CAT?
TD: I am proud of how we have adapted and changed our projects during the COVID-19 pandemic. We hit the ground running with a meal bag program, harm reduction services, street youth outreach. In some ways, we created social disruption in the community. Everyone else went into their houses and shut their doors and the homeless were left with nothing and no place to isolate or charge their phones or access public restrooms. People who were homeless were left out of the COVID-19 response. Because of our CAT funding, we were able to provide some services to that population, and that’s what I’m most proud of: being able to respond, creating some social disruption, and now everyone is wanting to do outreach. Outreach is the way to bring the services to the people, instead of making the people come to the services.
CAI: What is one piece of advice you’d like to share to a newly forming CAT?
TD: Involve peers as soon as you can. It’s not easy work, but they are the ones who are connecting to people who use drugs in the community, and these are the people we’re trying to connect to and save.

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