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Nelson mayor takes up mantle of Street Outreach Team to secure core funding

Outreach staff say their program is only barely getting by
Nelson Street Outreach program workers L-R: Jeremy Kelly, Lyann Hunter, and Ryall Giuliano work with people experiencing homeless and addictions in the city. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

by Timothy Schafer

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nelson Daily

Eight years after it began the city’s Street Outreach Team continues to face ongoing funding concerns but the city’s mayor has picked up the mantle and is trying to secure more stable funding.

Janice Morrison said although much of the funding for the program comes from federal coffers, she has been in conversation with Jennifer Whiteside, B.C. minister of Mental Health and Addictions, about the need for more funding and more staff, for street outreach.

“Because we have such an effective model here (we need) to try to look at core funding,” she said recently. “So I have been very consistent in the message that we need to have core funding that comes in at least three-year consistent pockets, if not five.”

Morrison said she was having the same discussion with Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson and her staff.

“We feel that this on-the-street approach is an excellent approach to be taking,” said Morrison. “So I haven’t taken my foot off of the accelerator in terms of trying to find funding and figure out ways to get some more money. But it’s a slow process.”

The outreach team appeared before Nelson City Council on Jan. 23 to inform on where the program was at, as well as underscore some of the fiscal challenges of maintaining the program. Joyce Dahms-Whiffen, program director for Nelson Community Services — which operates the Street Outreach Team — said the program draws funding from several sources, including the federal government, Interior Health and donations.

But it is barely enough to cover the four staff and supplies needed to operate the program five days per week, with a service call volume of up to 60 calls per day.

There is a growing need for crisis de-escalation and a lot of overdose response, said street outreach worker Jeremy Kelly, who has been with the program since it started. The need is growing, he said, and it is outpacing the program’s budget.

“In the first year we dealt with one overdose; there was a period last summer where we dealt with seven in one day,” he said. “That just shows the growing opioid crisis and what we are dealing with on a daily basis.”

The outreach program began in October 2016 as a way of providing a caring, comprehensive and direct response to the immediate and longer-term needs of Nelson’s growing street culture population.

The Street Outreach Team works in collaboration with service providers “to identify members of Nelson’s street culture population, assess their immediate and long-term needs for health, safety and basic needs, and offer a range of supports and services designed to meet those needs.”

It also enhances the awareness, tolerance and acceptance of downtown business owners and the general public towards the challenges faced by the street culture community.

“Businesses were concerned about the growing number of homeless people and how we could support the individuals that were experiencing difficulties,” said Dahms-Whiffen.

Made up of three street outreach workers and one program director, outreach services are offered throughout the year from Monday to Friday, during daytime hours.

Their training includes mental health First Aid, basic First Aid/CPR, assessment, case management, non-violent crisis intervention, privacy and information sharing, drug information, naloxone, mental health and substance use, health precautions and personal safety.

“On a daily basis we receive calls from the library on down to the recreation centre, and in between. We receive calls when people are in distress, we receive calls when it is not quite a police matter,” said Kelly.

READ MORE: ‘Our rapport is our power’: outreach workers discuss Nelson’s street population