Quesnel Community Action Team

Recognizing peers as experts in their own lives.

Formed in:  2018
Number of members:  21
Communities served:  

Name of Town: Quesnel,  

Unique features:

Peer-driven and collaborative, with multiple service providers.

A Q&A with Charlene Burmeister and Louise Wannop of the Quesnel CAT.

“You need to include both service providers who understand best practices as their guiding principles for peer engagement and peers who are upheld as experts in their own lives.” – Charlene Burmeister, Provincial Peer Coordinator

Members of the Community Action Initiative team sat down with Charlene Burmeister, the Provincial Peer Coordinator for the Compassion, Inclusion, Engagement (CIE) Partnership under the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and Louise Wannop who works as a Peer Advisor with the Coalition of Substance Users of the North (CSUN) to discuss the barriers, learnings, and peer-engagement experienced while working with the Quesnel CAT. Here’s what they had to say.

CAI: In what ways are people with lived and living experience with substance use (PWLLE) involved in your Community Action Team (CAT)?
Charlene Burmeister (CB): In the northern region, peer engagement is a rather new concept. I have been doing peer engagement and empowerment in my community for 10 years, and just in the last six months I’ve seen a shift in the health authority beginning to understand that PWLLE are integral partners in the design, delivery, and development in services that we may access.
    The Quesnel CAT is peer-driven and peer-led and we work closely with agencies like the Coalition of Substance Users of the North (CSUN). Their office is exclusively run by PWLLE and facilitates development programs, services and resources for community members and represents an alliance of people responding to the overdose crisis. The office has seen tremendous success, running afterhours and on weekends.
Louise Wannop (LW):
    I am a peer on the CAT, and I do a lot of work in the community. I am an outreach worker, I connect with people in the community, and take them to the Opioid Agonist Therapy (OAT) clinic, get people safe supply, and deliver medications. As a group, we identified the need for community outreach, in various areas at various times throughout the day/night. The Northern Peer Connections Van is a result of the CAT bringing together various organizations focused on providing accessible primary care referrals, counselling, harm reduction, and winter gear, for example. What is unique is that we have a peer as well as a service provider in the van, lowering the barrier to accessing proper health care without stigma.
    From its inception, the CAT has been a safe and equitable place for PWLLE to sit at the table as key stakeholders in addressing community concerns with responsive services. It’s crucial to note that we have community members involved with organizations who already understood the importance of peer engagement and that’s why we are successful. CATs need to be upholding the concept of “nothing about us, without us” as their guiding principles in order for peers to be key partners in CATs.
CAI: Can you tell us about access to OAT and access to safer supply in Quesnel?
LW: We support people who want to be on the OAT program. We complete the intake forms and get them into the program. The intake forms are so time intensive, but I have about 15 people on the OAT program. The Peer Connections Van really helps by picking people up and bringing them to the clinic.
CAI: Tell us about existing stigma in Quesnel?
CB: There is a lot of lateral violence amongst people who use substances. There’s privileged substance use, that creates lateral violence. There are people who use drugs that are comfortably housed, who say “we need to deal with the people using drugs in our community” – that is hugely problematic. The hierarchy of substance use amongst people who use drugs creates stigmatizing landscapes amongst drug users with less privilege. When substance users create those hierarchies, it almost impossible to have productive community dialogue.
CAI: What is one piece of advice you might have for a new Community Action Team?
CB: You need to include both service providers who understand best practices as their guiding principles for peer engagement and peers who are upheld as experts in their own lives. And there needs to be mentorship between service providers and peers to be able to share and understand each other’s successes and failures. Working together to better understand each other’s experiences is so important but we can’t force these relationships. Ensuring CAT partners use the “nothing about us, without us” philosophy to guide equitable engagement creates an equitable landscape rather than an equal landscape. Which helps to potentially form trusting relationships.
    You need to include peers – you need to hear the voice of peers. A CAT team will not be successful without getting knowledge from the people you are trying to reach. You can have all the service providers in the world, but they do not know firsthand what it is like to use substances. If you don’t know what that feels like personally, you really need those people onboard with you. Very importantly, there needs to be trauma-informed training for service providers, and peers need training to be able to sit at those tables with courage and the ability to engage in dialogue.


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