Vernon Community Action Team

A cultural audit that led to connection

Formed in:  2017
Number of members:  60
Communities served:  

Name of Town: Vernon,  

Unique features:

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.

CAI: So, what is the role of peer support workers in your CAT?
Shane Dillon: I’m part of Vernon Entrenched People Against Discrimination (VEPAD), which is a peer group that meets on a weekly basis at the North Okanagan Friendship Centre Society. We have hosted several community events and festivals, with the purpose of advocating to reduce stigma and connect with the general community and bridge those gaps between the public.
Annette Sharkey (AS):
    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.
Alison Houweling:
    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.
CAI: What is your engagement with Indigenous communities like?
Margaret Clark (MC): As part of our strategy, we carved out $10,000 of CAT funding to be spent on Indigenous recommendations made by our Cultural Audit team, which is a group of local Indigenous organizations and Indigenous champions who are members of our CAT and are responsible for including Indigenous-specific recommendations into our CAT strategy. The Cultural Audit team – made up of exclusively Indigenous organizations and champions – used an organic process to decide how the funding was distributed. I was involved with the team working, with an Okanagan Elder, Mollie Bono, a great teacher and leader who has guided us on our journey as to what needs to be done and how to bring culture to the process. We hosted several workshops and feasts, bringing people together to gather, with one of the workshops focused on creating cultural safety and responsiveness in the harm reduction kits. We painted stones, gathered sage, and designed cards to put into the harm reduction kits. These cards were signed by peers and then I asked anyone who I encountered – lawyers, teachers, council members, service providers – to sign the cards. We made 500 and we dropped them off to different community partners, Elders, and Indigenous peer workers and they were so well received.
    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.
CAI: What is some advice you would give to a newly forming CAT?
Sarah Lillemo: It is beneficial to come together and establish where the gaps are. I think so often we work in silos and the CAT brought stakeholders together and now we have a working relationship where we can collaborate on a multitude of issues in the community.
    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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