Name of Town: Vernon,
From conception, devoted to developing and evolving a strategy that was based on peer and Indigenous peer recommendations.
A Q&A with Shane Dillon, Annette Sharkey, Alison Houweling, Margaret Clark, and Sarah Lillemo of the Vernon CAT.
“Trust community. Trust the peer outreach workers. And trust the Indigenous peer outreach workers. Because they are the backbone,” -- Annette Sharkey, Executive Director for Social Planning Council for the North Okanagan
Members of the Community Action Initiative team sat down with Annette Sharkey, Executive Director for Social Planning Council for the North Okanagan; Margaret Clark, Manager of Restorative Justice, CMHA Vernon; Shane Dillon, Peer Support Worker, Vernon Entrenched Peers Against Discrimination; Sarah Lillemo, Harm Reduction Program Coordinator, Turning Points Collaborative Society; and Alison Houweling, Manager of Education and Community Programs, Turning Points Collaborative Society, to discuss the moments of innovation and resiliency experienced while working with the Vernon CAT. Here’s what they had to say.
The first year, the CAT allocated funds to develop and implement a strategy, with support from VEPAD. Year two and now year three, we are using our CAT funding to implement strategies that align with peer recommendations – prioritizing funding for peer support workers. Peer workers have been integral to the COVID response. At the Cammy Lafleur Clinic, which is hosted by Turning Points Collaborative Society, peer support workers distribute harm reduction supplies, assist with Naloxone training and work tirelessly to deliver food to campers when needed and resources to people on the street. In the last year’s budget and again this year, we provided CAT funding to support peer outreach teams to work under the umbrella of the Street Outreach Program. The funding included staff hours, peer honorariums for peer support workers, and a budget for food and refreshment. The peer support workers assisted with clinic hours, outreach to people sleeping in camps, and at special events. We had to adjust quickly without a lot of resources and the CAT funding allowed us to provide compensation to all peer support workers.
Since 2017, I've seen very positive change from VEPAD in people's quality of life and a lot of the people who I started working with went from homeless camps to their own apartments. This program has allowed for flexible employment that can accommodate people's unique needs.
I am proud of the connection that happened in this process. It was probably the first time in my life that I felt truly connected to Indigenous traditional teachings and an Elder from my own community, my own family, and the Okanagan Peoples.
Trust community. Trust the peer outreach workers. And trust the Indigenous peer outreach workers. Because they are the backbone.
My advice is to not be afraid to invite everybody to the table, even those who may have an opposing position, because at the end of the day, we all want the same thing – to live in a strong, healthy, safe community where we can play and grow and work and live.
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Government of BC