A soup kitchen or other group meal setting could be a first step toward dealing with opioid use in Houston and area, says a worker who has been involved in several community sessions this summer.
The key is establishing a safe and inclusive atmosphere where addiction services could be explained, says Rebecca Ells, a summer student who has been employed through a University of Victoria grant used by the Houston Harm Reduction Committee and Houston Link to Learning to gather community suggestions.
“What we need to is build community, to recognize that drug addiction is not a crime, it’s a medical condition,” said Ells. “We need first to break the stigma and suspend our judgment [of addiction].
The idea of a soup kitchen or other communal meal gathering was one of the suggestions arising from two community meetings this summer – a first which attracted 50 people in mid-July and a second session, a meal, at the end of August.
“If there was a soup kitchen, for example, ideally there could be a registered nurse there who could do wellness checks and give out information on services available,” Ells explained of the concept.
“The challenge though is funding to provide the support,” she said of a first step toward turning the concept into reality.
“Harm reduction through food security is definitely a way to connect with community.”
Other suggestions gathered at the sessions included more work preparations and skills training programs and more social and recreational programs for both young people and seniors.
Getting people out of their homes and into community and social settings reduces their isolation and, hopefully, the prospect of falling into drug use and addiction, Ells added.
“In a small community such as Houston, there may not be many opportunities for youth after high school,” she said of employment prospects.
“Peer to peer programs. That could be something to pursue,” Ells said of recreational and social activities providing supports.
“One way to build community is to get to know your neighbours,” she emphasized of the benefits of personal relationships and contact.
As well, the harm reduction committee has also been pursuing the idea of a community needle deposit box for the safe disposal of needles.
That’s drawn some pushback from the community.
“People don’t want them anywhere near their communities because they think that it will bring addicts to the community and they are oblivious — or choose to be oblivious — to the fact that there are [already] addicts in the community they are in,” said Ells.
“It doesn’t bring them [in[ …. it makes it safer.”
The Houston Harm Reduction Committee was created last year by the Northern Health Authority as a means of finding local solutions to an opioid overdose and addictions crisis which is sweeping through the province.
Outside of the Lower Mainland, the northern part of the province has the highest overdose mortality rate in B.C.
(with files from Trevor Hewitt)