Port Alberni Community Action Team

A very mighty community, indeed

CAT AT-A-GLANCE
Formed in:  2018
Number of members:  30
Communities served:  

Name of Town: Port Alberni,  

Unique features:

Peer driven, working collaboratively with emergency services and first responders with a focus on family support, strong relationships with local Indigenous partners and First Nations Health Authority

A Q&A with Ellen Frood and Mark Lacroix of the Port Alberni CAT.

“You always hear about what goes on. But to experience it, to see it. That is a big eye-opener,” – Ellen Frood, co-chair, Port Alberni CAT

Members of the Community Action Initiative team sat down with Ellen Frood, co-chair and Mark Lacroix, CAT Coordinator, to discuss the learnings, new initiatives, and proud moments experienced while working with the Port Alberni CAT. Here’s what they had to say.

CAI: So, in broad strokes, what can you tell us about the Port Alberni Community Action Team?
Mark Lacroix (ML): There are two Co-Chairs – both a facilitator and a Peer Coordinator. There are approximately 25 to 30 people from a variety of organizations who make-up the core membership. The members meet monthly and the majority of work is undertaken by four working groups: First Nation Peers working group, Families Helping Families, Peer Coordinators working group, and Emergency Services and First Responder working group.
    Each of the first three working groups is comprised of people with lived and living experience of substance use (PWLLE). The Emergency Services working group, who meets quarterly, includes RCMP, City Fire and Ambulance, and the affiliated CAI’s Overdose Prevention and Education Network (OPEN) – the Youth Harm Reduction group. Finally, the CAT has a distribution list of over 80 people, who receive meeting minutes, updates on deliverables and engagements.
Ellen Frood (EF):
    The Port Alberni CAT is a mighty community. The Families Helping Families initiative was created to support families who have people they love struggling with substance use. Families Helping Families provides a support group that meets virtually during the pandemic, once a month. It's a safe place to talk and share information about the family’s journey.
    Also, they publish a weekly blog article called Learning Moments which addresses all aspects of substance-related illness, specifically oriented to families who need help supporting family members. In addition, they involve all PWLLE working on initiatives that support work for people impacted by the overdose crisis. Many firsts were generated out of this group and I think it’s a good one for others to follow.
CAI: When you look back, how do you feel the CAT has evolved?
EF: In our first year, we undertook an enormous endeavor of community education – presenting to City Council, regional districts, service clubs, and First Nations groups. The group at the current table is a direct result of the first year’s community education. This diversity and engagement has supported the CAT to continue to branch out and grow.
    This growing peer voice has led to uncomfortable conversations and the ruffling of feathers. But that is where we have seen the focus slowly start to shift – to focus on activities identified by people with lived and living experience of substance use and create action out of that. That is when we started to see movement and momentum.
ML:
    And something not to be overlooked is the creation of peer positions versus simply providing honoraria for attending a meeting. By creating these positions, peers can gain leadership skills, while going out into the community and gathering information and bringing it back to the table for the group to decide how to address the challenges in real time. Port Alberni has created a structure that is mature enough to hear about what is going on in the community and this was essential when COVID-19 first happened.
CAI: Speaking of COVID, what happened during the initial phases of the pandemic?
ML: When COVID-19 first arrived, the Peer Coordinator shared – at one of the CAT meetings – that there were no washrooms open, or showers for people to use. This is where the invaluable nature of the CAT shines bright. You have MP Gord Johns, designated City Council Member and Senior City Manager, the local Fire Chief, Island Health, Medical Health Officers, people with lived and living experience of substance use, not-for-profits, and Indigenous representation, all sitting at the table. And you can start the conversation: “Who’s going to get this money? And who is going to do something about it?” And the CAT came up with a game plan to open the washrooms. There were peer requests for sanitation sites and shower facilities to open during the summer months, the CAT sponsored the request from peers and worked with the City for the generous offering of opening City shower facilities with having CMHA Port Alberni assist in the operations of this initiative. The CAT table and relationships proved invaluable to leverage this action in community in a timely manner.
CAI: You mentioned the Peer Coordinator role, which is wonderful. How additionally are people with lived and living experience of substance use involved in your CAT?
ML: The CAT is peer driven. The Co-Chair has lived experience. The First Nations Peer working group is comprised of peers, and they conducted a peer-led First Nations survey report with First Nations Health Authority (FNHA ) funding under the CAT. The CAT was able to incorporate the findings into our 2020-2021 workplan. We also have the Peer Network and Peer Outreach Worker. The Peer Outreach Worker invited Ellen out with her to go out at night to some of the marginalized areas. Ellen brought that back to the table and encouraged other executive directors and managers to go out and actually see the grassroots work happening. That was a success. Even the latest MLA – Josie Osborne went out to get a sense.
EF:
    You always hear about what goes on. But to experience it, to see it. That is a big eye-opener, and it supports each person to better understand what is happening in the community.

News

Overdose deaths hit hard in Alberni-Clayoquot region

2021.03.16

|

Alberni Valley News

Read Publication

More people seek addiction treatment in Port Alberni, but opioid crisis still critical, says CAT

2019.10.17

|

Alberni Valley News

Read Publication

Alberni CAT connects Families Helping Families

2020.01.20

|

Alberni Valley News

Read Publication

Overdose deaths hit hard in Central Island region

2021.03.18

|

Nanaimo News Bulletin

Read Publication

Related Communities

Share