Sea to Sky Community Action Team

Bridging the gaps

Formed in:  2019
Number of members:  20
Communities served:  

Name of Town: Whistler,  Squamish,  Pemberton,  

Unique features:

Strong peer witnessing program and innovative modular housing program

A Q&A with Robert LeBlanc of the Sea to Sky CAT.

“Who are we to come up with solutions for somebody? They’ve got to be a part of that decision-making process,” – Robert LeBlanc, Representative from Vancouver Coastal Health

Members of the Community Action Team sat down with Robert LeBlanc, Representative from Vancouver Coastal Health, to discuss the evolutions, learnings and proud moments experienced while working with the Sea to Sky CAT. Here’s what he had to say.

CAI: How are people with lived and living experience of substance use (PWLLE) involved in your CAT?
Robert LeBlanc (RL): Peers are all invited to our monthly CAT meetings and working groups. They hear our perspectives and we hear their perspectives. The working groups include topics like overdose prevention, trauma-informed care and anti-stigma, and treatment and recovery. Peers come to the meetings with an interest in what’s going on. There’s this “nothing about us, without us” perspective, and we’re fully behind that idea. I mean, who are we to come up with solutions for somebody? They’ve got to be a part of that decision-making process. We might be there to shape their ideas into something that can be done, something manageable, but we’ve got to know what would work for them, so they’ve got to be there.
CAI: How does your CAT engage with local Indigenous communities?
RL: We work with the Squamish Nation mostly. There’s a bit of overlap with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). We talk a fair bit about the aspects that one is hearing and the other isn’t. There are the questions of “How are you handling this?” And: “How are we handling that?” The FNHA representative is my counterpart and she sees things that I may not, so we compare notes a fair bit. The CAT representative from the Squamish Nation is very active with the CAT. She’s here every month for those meetings and she has come to some of the Street Degree classes as well. In our specific case, we’re using Street Degree education to train the peers and staff who will be working at the new Squamish Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) , but in general the program provides education – 25 modules and counting – on topics related to substance use, harm reduction, and the psychosocial issues that surround it. I’m going to be working with her on a series of cultural safety modules, including bringing in some Elders from Squamish Nation to present to the CAT.
CAI: Can you speak to a time when you’ve been proud to be a part of your CAT?
RL: I think the fact that we got the modular housing – the Bridge – in at the beginning of 2020. The Bridge was a short-term modular housing project that was assembled out of about 50 ATCO trailers into a single structure with one long hallway running down the middle, and single-occupancy rooms on either side. It had shared bathroom and laundry facilities and a couple of staff offices but was otherwise just dedicated to housing folks in need.
    Circumstances at the time dictated the need for the Bridge. The Squamish Helping Hands Society was nearing completion of its new building, Under One Roof, which was slated to replace its small and aging shelter, for one thing. For another, the Budget Inn hotel was being torn down by its new owner, so its long-term residents were being evicted and there were dozens of homeless people living rough in the woods around town. There was a pressing need for something to bridge the gap until Under One Roof was completed. The Bridge was erected in February of 2020, and dismantled in November of 2020, once its residents were able to move into Under One Roof.
The company that had all these modular camps offered them to the Squamish Helping Hands Society, one of our CAT members, and because of that, we were able to take 48 people out of the woods in the wintertime and house them.
    We also set-up a peer-witnessing program at the Bridge, and it was great in that it offered not just some safety but it was also a dry run for what was eventually needed at Under One Roof. The District of Squamish and Squamish Helping Hands Society worked in partnership with BC Housing to create a new Under One Roof facility that offers the Squamish community improved and centralized access to food, shelter and support services. We’re proud of how that worked and so far, these peer witnesses have responded to almost a dozen overdoses.
CAI: What’s one of the greatest successes of your CAT?
RL: I think setting up Squamish’s first OPS is our capstone achievement. The temporary facility allows people who use drugs to do so under the supervision of trained staff and peers. Vancouver Coastal Health provides funding, education, clinical support and harm reduction supplies while Helping Hands manages the operations of the site, monitoring and intervening in overdose events when they occur. In the span of a year – and a pandemic year, at that – we’ve gotten everything done to open the doors. That’s awfully quick, and the fact that it’s the last missing piece of this substance use ecosystem in the region, the one missing service – or at least the biggest missing service – we’re happy with that.


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