A $25,000 grant has been received by City of Powell River as part of a provincial program to address the overdose crisis.
Kathryn Colby, community development manager at Lift Community Services and coordinator of the Community Action Team, said the idea of the grant was to create a program for disposing of used substances in the community. Lift Community Services has partnered with the city in the implementation of the grant.
“When folks find discarded sharps, that’s a huge red flag for our community,” said Colby. “There’s a lot of emotion around discarded harm-reduction supplies.”
One of the reasons Lift paired with the municipality was to address a couple of issues around sharps disposal, according to Colby.
She said the first is there is nowhere safe outside of Powell River General Hospital to dispose of sharps, especially not in large quantities. One of the reasons the grant was written was to look at getting a sharps disposal unit located close to where folks are using drugs in the community, according to Colby. This would include areas such as around Joyce Avenue and Duncan Street, and Glacier Street, that are the hotspots for substance use, based on overdose calls from BC Ambulance Service.
The other idea was to utilize the substance-using community as the labour. Colby said people will be going around in high visibility vests to pick up garbage and other items around the community, caring for the community openly and visibly.
“Folks really wanted to be a part of something larger,” said Colby. “They also feel disempowered when peers of theirs litter in the community. It makes them sort of a target.
“What we are going to do is have a task force of peers moving around the community, not only to pick up paraphernalia and take needle calls away from the fire department, but doing general litter pickup around the community, as well as interfacing with people about what safe disposal actually looks like.”
Colby said this will result in teachable moments.
She added that there is a need to utilize community members who care about these issues so that not everyone is painted with the same brush.
“It might change the way people see themselves in the community,” said Colby. “We know with a lot of our other projects, it has been really empowering for people. We have this wonderful social worker who has noticed that all of our folks who have been working at the overdose prevention site sit a little straighter, talk a little louder, they open up at meetings. We really believe everyone has a part in this community and so this is a way for folks to be seen as being helpful.”
Colby said about 40 people want to be involved in the project. She said it is envisioned the roll-out will use people from the new supported housing facility, from the overdose prevention site, as well as the local substance users group at the community resource centre.
“We already know people are wanting this to come through,” said Colby. “They knew we wrote the grant. People have been asking when the project will get going.”
Colby said the project will begin as soon as the city receives the funding. The desire is to roll it out quickly. The majority of the grant will go toward labour and some will be apportioned to go to equipment, such as a sharps disposal unit.
“As soon as the funds are in place, we can take action,” said Colby.
She said if people are curious about any of the services being rolled out, if they see someone in the high visibility vest picking up garbage on the street, she is encouraging people to reach out and have a conversation with the workers.
“I think what people will find, more than anything, is that the people engaged in these programs are born and bred Powell Riverites who really want to find their footing again in the community,” said Colby.
Lift Community Services executive director Stuart Clark said his organization is always looking for new opportunities to respond to challenges being faced.
“This grant is a lever for us to help people who want help,” said Clark. “These people are available to work and want to make a difference in the community. They want to create a more positive face for the drug-using community.”
Clark said part of the trigger is the concern in the community around discarded needles, so part of it is an educational opportunity to talk about what safe disposal is supposed to look like, what the real risks of discarded needles are and what it looks like for the community to come together and address the problem.
He said a third of the grant outcome is education, a third is to provide work and a third is responding to community concern.
Powell River is one of 24 municipalities and their community partners such as Lift Community Services to take part in initiatives that build on community wellness, safety and harm-reduction efforts related to the overdose crisis and saving lives.