BY KALISHA MENDONSA
Harm reduction may not be a familiar term to all community members but it’s an important part of keeping citizens safe, educated and respected.
Thanks to the efforts of the Turning Point Rural Outreach team, harm reduction education and resources will become more integrated into rural Central Alberta communities.
Within the next two weeks, the Rural Outreach program will be rolled out into a number of communities including Lacombe, Blackfalds and Ponoka, to supplement programming already being shared throughout Central Alberta.
“With rural outreach, we are doing everything from making sure community organizations can distribute narcotics or prevention kits to educating about sexual health to talking about safer injection for drug users,” said Turning Point Executive Director Jennifer Vanderschaeghe.
“Our outreach workers are trained with a lot of information and general practices. We address the communities where we can see a need or growing need for our services, and we have found that in Lacombe and Ponoka.”
Vanderschaeghe explained that through various relationships formed over time, the Turning Point team – formerly known as Central Alberta Aids Network Society or CAANS – has been gaining understanding of the issues in Lacombe and area regarding drug use, safe sex practices, the need for education and the desire to foster community relationships.
She explained that members of Turning Point team have spent time in various communities across Central Alberta gaining insight into the needs, services and concerns of each community.
Since January the Turning Point team has been to 18 rural communities with their work in overdose prevention, but Vanderschaeghe said these conversations often led to bigger discussions about social, economic and health issues within the specific community.
“We have been working hard to transition those conversations further and get that information out. We took our current relationships and connections and actively stated to those people that we want to move into these communities,” Vanderschaeghe said.
“These current connections also include vulnerable populations, who include people who use drugs and people within LGBTQ communities and other groups – those are the people who have helped us to connect to other people who have direct experience and impact in addressing the needs of a community.”
As well, Turning Point works with other organizations such as Alberta Health Services, Family and Community Support Services in some communities, mental health and addictions counsellors and more. This helps the Red Deer-based organization understand the needs of the greater Central Alberta community and share the information they have available to them.
In specific relation to Lacombe and Ponoka, Vanderschaeghe said she believes local community services and agents do have understanding of the needs their communities face in relation to sexual health and addictions work.
Through her discovery process, Vanderschaeghe said she has heard a common thread – community organizations are hungry for information.
“The staff in various organizations may not have the depth of information and training that they’d like to address these issues of addictions work and sexual health. That means we spend a fair amount of time on training and mentorship,” she said.
“As well, there seems to be a more noticeable amount of discrimination against people who are different. We’re hearing concerns about people feeling safe in their smaller, rural communities because it takes so much effort to be discreet and to get any information or help.”
She explained this perception of marginalization is founded on personal discussions among community members, resource-based groups such as LGBTQ supports, addictions counsellors and more.
Vanderschaeghe said that disconnect among people can feel bigger in rural communities because people have to work harder to remain anonymous. She added many LGBTQ groups in rural communities are finding themselves discussing safe sexual health practices and are providing a number of supports to that end, which will help the Turning Point team understand some needs of the communities.
She said the rural outreach workers have a tough job in that they are expected to have a lot of resources, information and capability in fostering safe communities and strong relationships.
“In communities where our staff feel needed or wanted, we are able to make connections and understand the issues that are affecting that community,” she said.
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