Last week, I outlined the Province’s harm reduction strategy and the growing safety concerns surrounding discarded needles. As noted in that column, the Province has effectively challenged local governments to step up and provide leadership to coordinate both the local addictions support programs and to mitigate any potential risks to the community from provincially funded needle distribution programs. The Province’s expectation is that local governments undertake this leadership role without any incremental funding being provided from the provincial treasury.
Personally, I think this demand for local government to step up without providing additional resources is an abdication of the Province’s responsibilities. But, as I’ve stated in other columns, we can put a lot of energy into fighting this downloading, taking a “principled” stance that we will not take on these downloaded responsibilities, or we can get on with the job of finding partners to address the very real problems our community is confronted with. I and the majority of Council have taken the latter stance and have embraced the need to play a role in helping coordinate local programs to assist people in our community to access mental health and addictions services and to also reduce any collateral community impacts that result from the delivery of these services.
It is vital to note that the City of Quesnel is neither mandated nor resourced to be a direct service provider for any addictions program. These programs are delivered by a wide array of social service organizations, government agencies, the Health Authority, and not-for-profit groups that have been created to address specific needs in our community (e.g. Quesnel Tillicum Society, Quesnel Shelter and Support Society). These agencies are all too often underfunded and stretched to the limit, especially the ones reliant on a shrinking volunteer base and on hard to get donations. As a result, there is often little capacity within these organizations to put significant energy into community-wide, cross-organizational coordination efforts – that’s one of the reasons the Provincial Government is pushing local governments into that role.
In response to the need for a more coordinated, robust approach to addictions services, the City of Quesnel joined forces with Northern Health and BC Housing to fund an initiative called “Community Caring for People with Addictions.” This initiative has been underway since February 2017 and includes all of the key organizations that provide addictions supports in the Quesnel area and includes peers (individuals who are either recovering addicts or managing their addictions and who are engaged in helping to improve service delivery to people with addictions). A final report with recommendations for potential improvements to service delivery in Quesnel is imminent. We will make that report public and work with the Province and appropriate agencies to implement any of its recommendations.
The City has also partnered with BC Housing and Northern Health to provide incremental funding to an existing initiative aimed at cleaning up discarded needles throughout West Quesnel and Downtown. This “Clean Team” program is specifically aimed at reducing the potential harm to the general community from discarded needles. Seasons House has supported this program for a number of years and engaged many peers in its implementation. The City, with assistance from Northern Health and BC Housing, is now working with the peers leading the Clean Team to enhance the program and provide it with additional resources.
We are doing what we can as a Council to demonstrate leadership and help coordinate services and reduce the community impacts associated with the Province’s approach to addictions services. It would be great if the Province recognized local government’s efforts in this domain and provided us with the incremental resources we need to more fully commit to this mandated leadership role.