Victoria News

Trust first step in connecting street community with health service

Katrina Jensen, executive director of AIDS Vancouver Island, holds a basket of harm-reduction supplies available at the Access Health Centre on Johnson Street. The centre will be one of two health ‘hubs’ where drug addicts will be able to not only pick up supplies, but have a conversation with an outreach worker about health-related services. Groups will be asked to submit bids on providing those services. - Sharon Tiffin/News staff
Katrina Jensen, executive director of AIDS Vancouver Island, holds a basket of harm-reduction supplies available at the Access Health Centre on Johnson Street. The centre will be one of two health ‘hubs’ where drug addicts will be able to not only pick up supplies, but have a conversation with an outreach worker about health-related services. Groups will be asked to submit bids on providing those services.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

There’s no shortage of free, clean needles, cookers and other drug paraphernalia in Victoria.

The problem is that each handout represents a missed opportunity for a conversation.

Ever since the Cormorant Street needle exchange closed its doors in 2008, referrals to other health services dropped off in tandem, said Murray Fyfe, medical health officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

The consequence? Increased trips to emergency, at much greater expense to the health-care system, he told Victoria city council.

On Dec. 6 Fyfe announced a $500,000 initiative that VIHA and its partners hope will provide a solution.

First, an outreach team of six to 10 people will hit the streets, trying to build relationships with the roughly 100 people in the street community with severe addiction and mental health challenges.

“This outreach team is just about engagement,” Fyfe said. “It’s about that trust development and getting people to the point where they are ready to start receiving some services.”

Outreach workers can refer them to one of two new health “hubs,” which represent the second half of the initiative. Rather than opening new centres, VIHA located the services in existing facilities that already cater to a vulnerable population.

The Access Health Centre at 713 Johnson St. is one of them.

It already offers a wide range of health, dental and counselling services.

It also offers harm-reduction equipment such as needles, cookers and condoms.

Currently when clients come in for supplies, the front-desk worker simply hands over the requested equipment.

By next spring, newly-hired staff will hand out the materials and use the opportunity to refer clients to other health services located in the same building.

“We’re not expecting our numbers to increase, but we’re expecting to better serve the people we do reach,” said Katrina Jensen, executive director of AIDS Vancouver Island, which runs the centre in partnership with Cool Aid Society.

The health centre will also add peer support and extra screening for blood-borne diseases to its list of services.

The second hub will be located in the sobering centre at 1123 Pembroke St. That facility already offers addictions counselling, rehabilitation services and harm-reduction supplies. Soon, VIHA will beef up these offerings with new services such as art therapy, links to housing and primary care on evening and weekends.

Coun. Marianne Alto, who participated in the planning process, praised the plan, noting that police, service providers and VIHA came together to build it.

“It’s really quite amazing … Organizations like this, in some circumstances, can be at odds,” she said. Instead, they set aside their own interests to find a common solution to a challenging problem.

The new model centres around the client’s need, rather than the agency’s capacity. “It’s really quite unique,” Alto said.

News about the new initiative has left Fernwood residents with mixed feelings about the health “hub” slated for their neighbourhood.

Community association president Tony Sprackett said he’s keeping an open mind, but is disappointed to learn of the initiative through the media.

“I’m happy that there is something afoot to improve these services, because there has been a gaping hole,” he said.

“But I have seen concerns from those neighbours (nearby) and I think they need to be consulted on it and at least made aware of what the plans are. Maybe it will have little impact (on) them. We just don’t know.”

The drug-using community has its own thoughts about the new model. Inclusion was top of mind for the Society of Living Illicit Drug Users (SOLID).

“We hope that this shift in service delivery results in renewing peer-run services and ensuring that the specialized knowledge and skill of our membership is recognized in the delivery of services, by and for people who use illicit drugs,” the SOLID board wrote in a prepared statement.

rholmen@vicnews.com

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

You might like ...

Hip hop artist finds inspiration in overcoming troubled past
 
HOMEFINDER: Empty nesters look to downsize
 
Slain soldier to ride Highway of Heroes today
Carve out time for new pumpkin event at the Rollin Art Centre
 
Arts around: Is it Christmas already?
 
Pearson returns to Alberni
Musical tells stories of teens after accident
 
Documentary film examines pot activist Marc Emery
 
Some of the valley’s finest young fretboard fingers fly during Summerfest Guitar Wars

Community Events, October 2014

Add an Event

Read the latest eEdition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Oct 24 edition online now. Browse the archives.