Victoria Community Action Team

Families are the untapped resource

Formed in:  2017
Number of members:  30
Communities served:  

Name of Town: Victoria,  Westshore,  

Unique features:

Upholds a successful multi-micro-granting process of innovative grassroots initiatives annually

A Q&A with Katrina Jensen and Tracey Thompson of the Victoria CAT.

“Family members are such an untapped resource in terms of the overdose response,” – Katrina Jensen, Executive Director, AVI Health and Community Services Society

Members of the Community Action Initiative team sat down with Katrina Jensen, Executive Director, AVI Health and Community Services Society and Tracey Thompson, Harm Reduction Coordinator, Island Health to discuss the evolution, learnings, and proud moments experienced while working with the Victoria CAT. Here’s what they had to say.

CAI: So, tell us: How did the CAT form initially?
Tracey Thompson (TT): We had a working group of community members – including AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI), the City of Victoria, Cool Aid Community Services, as well as law enforcement, mental health representatives, and Island Health public health departments. The group was tasked with implementing a new intensive case management (ICM) team that was co-created by Island Health and AVI and Cool Aid Community Services. The working group remained in place once the ICM team was launched and the service grew and evolved. When Community Action Teams across the province were launched, the working group pivoted into a CAT. We took a look at the membership and who we could extend invites to, and how we could include people with lived and living experience with substance use (PWLLE) as well.
Katrina Jensen (KJ):
    We were really fortunate to have additional funding through Community Action Initiative (CAI) to form the South Island Community Overdose Response Network (SICORN) in early 2017. SICORN was really focused on frontline workers, family members, and PWLLE. This group has continued as a grassroots group, and while the CAT still has grassroots members, it has broader municipal and law enforcement members as well. If we hadn’t been working with SICORN, we wouldn’t have been as successful as we were with the formation of the CAT. Many of us – especially family members of PWLLE – have come from SICORN and continue to be a part of SICORN.
CAI: How are people with lived and living experience with substance use involved in the CAT?
KJ: One project we did this year was a peer-witnessing project in three of the sheltering sites – hotels that had been set up in Victoria for people who had been made homeless due to COVID. This was a project that was peer-initiated and peer-run and was successful enough that it ended up getting additional funding from Vancouver Island Health Authority. The peer-witnessing project itself was run by peers on-call was and it was a great success. It was developed and run through a peer organization and CAT member, the Umbrella Society. Other organizations that supported it included Peers – an organization of sex workers for sex workers.
    The peer-witnessing program was very well received by the residents and the people selected to be peer witnessers. The ability to create and quickly pivot to this opportunity for those facing housing insecurity and temporary housing was especially meaningful for everyone. Their drive to continue to improve the program demonstrates their commitment to helping others and the success of the program. Peers developed their own signage, relayed constant feedback about improving the program, and expressed their sadness of the program’s end. Peers brought empathy and compassion for their fellow residents. It’s a great model of what is possible.
CAI: What has been a success your CAT has been able to celebrate?
TT: I’m thrilled with a project called Holding Hope, a peer-led support group for families affected by their loved one’s substance use, led by Nancy Murphy of Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH). Nancy developed a manual/facilitation guide for Holding Hope and partnered with Foundry to deliver this manual. Holding Hope went really well and is now being delivered across the country.
    It was one of the first projects that we funded as a CAT in the fall of 2019. Nancy worked really hard with other members of MSTH to set up this support group. They were able to pivot really quickly and put it online due to COVID.
    In 2019, families were definitely not being included in the overdose crisis as they are now, and it was really our CAT identifying this. For me, personally, one of the amazing experiences I’ve had is being in a meeting and talking and working with family members in a way that we hadn’t before. Both family members who have lost loved ones as well as those who are still supporting their loved ones. Family members are such an untapped resource in terms of the overdose response.


Victoria marks International Overdose Awareness Day at Centennial Square Aug. 31



Saanch News

Read Publication

Those who have lost loved ones to substance abuse find solace through support



Times Colonist

Read Publication

Related Communities