By Sue Tiffin
A sibling. A mom. Elders. A retired nurse. An educator. Someone who identifies as a survivor of alcoholism. People who were working after hours to attend. Friends who were invited to join. Reporters. A pastor. A doctor. Someone who thought it was a different topic altogether but who stayed anyway. And perhaps most critically people who are struggling with addictions right now.
These are the concerned community members who showed up to gather around a cloth – a resiliency map or storytelling blanket laid on the floor of the Lakeside Church on Nov. 28 by Yvette Perreault. A community facilitator she helped lead what was advertised by the Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee of Haliburton County as being a two-hour public discussion on the impact of addictions/substance use disorder in Haliburton County.
The resiliency map or storytelling blanket comes out of the HIV sector and Perreault a longtime front-line community organizer and counsellor has been using it in harm reduction circles and opioid overdose circles to help whoever comes to the circle talk about the impact of substance use on community.
Gathering closer together with Perreault’s guidance individuals in the group shared sometimes raw experiences of loss and hope connecting with a colour or section on the resiliency map/storytelling blanket representing shared values organization family and community motivation and commitment social and political context research and policy and what Perreault described as “fire in our bellies” activism.
“And each of you have got some of that or you wouldn’t be having your bums on these chairs tonight” she said. “Some part of you is saying we can do better here.”
Andrew Hodson co-chair of the coordinating committee and case manager Four County Crisis Canadian Mental Health Association acknowledged the bravery of those who came forward to talk about their lived experiences among strangers and also familiar faces from within a small community.
“That’s who we did this for” he said. “There’s a lot of people hurting.”
The Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee of Haliburton County – which includes members of the local John Howard Society Association for Community Living HHHS Point in Time Legal Aid Ontario OPP YWCA and Kawartha Haliburton Victim Services as well as numerous other agencies and organizations – responds to what is happening within the community as much as they can he said after the meeting.
“This has been a very tough year for the county for a number of measures. We’re not untouched with opioid issues just like the rest of the province so we responded. We just decided to open this up.”
A three-hour workshop held that afternoon had invited front-line service workers together.
“We said this morning if there’s four or five people show up we’ll be happy and there was over 20” said Hodson. “So we had a session this morning that was meant toward front-line workers because we’re members of the community too we’re not just workers. We’re deeply affected by the things that go on so we got some support this afternoon and then even more importantly this evening was a chance for people with lived experience and the people that love and care for them.”
Perreault asked those sharing in the circle to offer suggestions of what the county needs and suggestions came easily to people: information and knowledge more interaction among community members accessible counselling alternative therapies care for youth transportation and affordable housing a community walk-in centre support motivation and encouragement and to meet again.
“It’s been a very powerful conversation from where I sit as an outsider” she said as the session wrapped up. “I’m trying to remember the last time I sat in a circle with this diverse of a group coming together to look at this stuff. Few and far between. So there’s something interesting happening in this community. What I see in this conversation is we’re not at the problem solving stage we’re at the let’s meet each other and let’s talk together from experience to experience.”
Hodson said the sessions were powerful to him both as a front-line worker and also as a community member.
“The people that were struggling with addictions that were here I don’t think they were judged I think they just felt some support and were able to speak up if they wanted to about how they’ve been impacted” he said. “And that’s what we really want. We want people to understand we are listening doing the best we can.”
Perreault suggested the group continue to come together somehow.
“That might mean do we plan this every once in awhile that we keep talking about where people are surviving overdose circles we just tell each other truth” she said. “We don’t rush to problem solve. We need to keep telling the truth about our experiences to the people who walk in the door. We need to hear their stories as well.”
For more information about the HSJCC visit hsjcc.on.ca.