Powell River Community Action Team

Nothing about us, without us

CAT AT-A-GLANCE
Formed in:  2018
Number of members:  60
Communities served:  

Name of Town: qathet Regional District,  Powell River,  Tla'amin Nation,  

Unique features:

Robust rural and Indigenous focused initiatives

A Q&A with Kathryn Colby of the Powell River CAT.

“Start with the people who are suffering, dying, and losing people in their community and center them in the work. Care for them in their grief,” – Kathryn Colby, CAT Coordinator

Members of Community Action Team sat down with Kathryn Colby, CAT Coordinator to discuss local Indigenous connections and the evolutions of the Powell River CAT. Here’s what she had to say.

CAI: How are people with lived or living experience with substance use (PWLLE) involved in your CAT?
Kathryn Colby (KC): We strongly believe the “nothing about us, without us” philosophy. We don’t ‘include’ peers in the work. The work actually happens at the behest of the folks whose programming needs the CAT is able to significantly impact, so it’s actually central. We work closely with an organization called SUSTAIN – Substance Users Society Teaching Advocacy Instead of Neglect – and will be keeping that organization going this year because we really feel like that is the key.
    We have working groups that we call sub-CATs, and on those sub-CATs, the first folks that we think of, invite, and form around, are folks with lived and living experience, so it’s just seamless. All peers are our colleagues and they’re embedded in every aspect of the work we do. We don’t do presentations without peers. It’s everywhere, everything.
CAI: How does your CAT work with or engage with Indigenous communities?
KC: When COVID came here, it affected the Tla’amin Nation quite hard. There was a full shelter-in-place order. People weren’t even allowed to go out and check their mail. The CAT got our community partners together and showed up at the health centre on site, set up a big tent for every subsequent night possible for the shelter-in-place order, to provide pandemic prescribing – prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, et cetera – so folks didn’t have to leave to seek substances, and alcohol withdrawal services.
    We did everything we could in a community-based way. There were already a lot of peers in the Tla’amin Nation, and they just came together into this incredible network. That was really the culmination of us working alongside the folks in health – the clinicians, the counsellors, substance-use nursing – all these harm reduction conversations that we’d been trying to have just culminated into this thing and we were all suddenly on the same page. Now, there is this robust team out there being able to get people what they need, and making those connections. So we couldn’t do anything without the Tla’amin folks.
CAI: What are one or two successes your CAT has been able to achieve or celebrate?
KC: In the first year I joined the CAT, we implemented, staffed, and funded a full-service Overdose Prevention Site (OPS). Our OPS Coordinator is a paramedic, and our other Coordinator was a nurse. The OPS will always be one of the greatest things that we’ve ever done. It’s the first substance-user-friendly space in our community, so people have a place where they belong, and that’s been really amazing.
    We’re running a peer-witnessing program where we can dispatch a team of two peers and bring people harm reduction supplies, recover discarded sharps, and teach how to administer Naloxone.
    We’re also going to be embedding rapid point-of-use testing for Hepatitis C into this service. The peer empowerment pieces have been so amazing. This is designed by peers, and for peers, and we really trust their best judgement. The first night the peer-witnessing program started, they went out into community and gathered up 1000 sharps and diverted them from the landfill.
    We’ve had a youth sub-CAT that’s been interesting. There are not a lot of resources or support specifically for youth here. We really feel that youth need to be part of the conversation, no matter what we’re talking about, especially for social impact. We have a Youth Committee of 22 people from ages 15 to 21 who actively are working on drug and harm reduction programming for youth in the community.
    That’s just one amazing example of what the CAT has been doing. And then of course, our work in Tla’amin is just mind bending. I can’t believe how many people have accessed the services there. We have this really cool social worker who works for child and youth mental health, and she put it perfectly: People are hungry for this. People are hungry for something they don’t even know they’re hungry for, and when they find out about it, it’s just the right thing.
CAI: Do you have any advice for a newly formed CAT, based on what you have learned on the journey?
KC: Yes. Start with the folks who will be impacted by your programming. Start with the people who are suffering, dying, and losing people in their community and center them in the work. Care for them in their grief.

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