Name of Town: Quesnel,
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.
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.
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.
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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