An on-the-ground support team for people with mental health or addiction issues is being formed in Cranbrook, part of a network of Community Action Teams (CATs) put in place by the province of B.C over the past four years.
The Government of B.C. is investing $2.5 million to support new and existing CATs. These teams provide support and services to people who use drugs and reduce the risk of illicit drug toxicity deaths in communities hit by the overdose crisis.
“We have found in communities across British Columbia that there are some people who need support with mental health and addictions who just will not walk into a clinic, or who are not connected with a doctor or primary care provider who might be able to navigate them towards those supports,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions for the Province, in an interview with the Townsman.
Cranbrook had the most illicit drug overdose deaths in the East Kootenay last year with ten. Several have been reported so far in 2021.
Teams help save lives and reduce drug harms by distributing naloxone, supporting overdose prevention services, providing peer supports and reducing stigma. Teams also play a vital role in service navigation, support and advocacy.
“Malcolmson said CATs “are really a boots on the ground team.
“They will be out on the street, meeting people where they’re at. Some of the team members are often peer supporters — people with lived and living experience who in turn want to harness what they’ve learned from overcoming addiction, or building a life back after having been street-entrenched, or deep in addiction.”
The Province announced Friday that new teams will be established in the Central Coast Regional District and in Cranbrook, bringing the total number of teams in B.C. to 36. The CATs were established in 2018 as part of the escalated response to the drug poisoning crisis.
“It’s very much in line with our government’s approach to mental health and addictions — that we have to meet people where they’re at,” Malcolmson said.
Team members can include first responders, community agencies, social workers, peer support workers nurse practitioners … it’s usually peer-led, Malcolmson said., and there are members who’ve got the medical lead, who are there there as a resource.
Teams also include community partners, such as First Nations communities, municipalities, frontline community agencies and people and families with lived experience.
The exact formation and operation of community actions teams will be different in every community. They’re meant to adapt and respond to community needs, Malcolmson said.
“It might be that police see that there’s a place where people congregate and use drugs — that would be a tip they could give to the community action team, that this is a place they could let people know what services and supports are available — to keep them safe, but ideally to direct them towards the supports to help them stabilize their lives and get back on a healthy path.”
Malcolmson said this team-based approach has already made a difference in communities all across British Columbia.
“This past year of Covid has been such a set-back,” she said. “We’ve got more people with mental health problems and more drug toxicity. More drug overdoses and more homelessness. I can only imagine what the street-based response would have been if we didn’t have these teams in place. It’s absolutely a rising tide, and we have a lot more to do.
And in the 34 communities that have these teams already, we’ve been able to connect people with care. We’ve been able to minimize some of the street disorder and the active and most visible aspects of people who use drugs and who are living on the streets.
To be able to reach out, meet them where they’re at and direct them to care has really been a life-changer in many communities.
There are eight such community action teams in the Interior Health Region. Cranbrook will be the first in the East Kootenay. There are others in Nelson-Castlegar, Grand Forks, Kamloops, Central Okanagan, Penticton, Vernon and Williams Lake.