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July 14, 2020, 9:17 am

City of Kelowna Receives Federal Funding for Peer Navigator Program

City of Kelowna

KELOWNA - The City of Kelowna, in partnership with Urban Matters CCC and PEOPLE Employment Services, has received funding from Health Canada to establish a peer navigator program for community social-serving organizations.The program will provide employment opportunities and will support people experiencing a variety of vulnerabilities, including those with lived and living experience of homelessness and/or substance use.

“Peer support programs are an integral part of the continuum of substance use services and are highly effective in making a positive and sustained difference in the lives of individuals who seek help,” said the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health. “The Government of Canada remains committed to supporting evidence-informed, community-based initiatives such as this one being carried out in the Central Okanagan. This important program will provide Canadians living with problematic substance use access to local assistance.”

Over the last several months, The City of Kelowna has convened initiatives and conversations with the aim of catalyzing community wellness. 

“People who have lived experience with substance use and other vulnerabilities face barriers to healing every day,” said Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran. “This program gives us an opportunity to break down those barriers and help people access the necessary care and support they need by connecting with peers who can relate and advise the best way forward.”

Through a series of capacity building exercises for people with lived and living experience of substance use, a vision for enhanced harm reduction, healing and support services emerged. It was determined that those with this lived experience – peers – could provide the first point of contact to others in the community who are seeking help. Further findings that will be explored with this program in relation to harm reduction services will focus on stigma reduction, dignity preservation, and livelihood development.

The PEOPLE Peer Navigators & Capacity Building Program will recruit, train and employ peers in specific peer navigator roles within social-serving organizations throughout the community. It will build the skills and confidence of those with lived experience to take on peer navigation safely and effectively, which is a role missing from support services in place today.

In addition, Indigenous cultural practices have been recognized as lacking in the mobilization of harm reduction and other support services in response to substance use challenges. These Indigenous practices are increasingly recognized as a powerful way to support healing and overcome trauma for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals. A strong focal point of the program will be to develop curriculum for peer-to-peer Indigenous cultural teachings, including smudge, land-based learning, tobacco teachings, drum and song, and support Indigenous peers to gain competencies to deliver those teachings.

“We heard loud and clear in our engagements that the introduction of peer navigator positions and Indigenous cultural teachings within social serving agencies can meaningfully improve the experiences of hundreds of people seeking help in the Central Okanagan, and improve their access to harm reduction services and supports,” says Jen Casorso, Project Lead with Urban Matters CCC. “With compelling outcomes from this program, we have an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of harm reduction in our community.”

The City of Kelowna has cultivated a broad network of partners through the Kelowna Community Action Team to deliver this project, including the meaningful involvement of people with lived and living experience of past or current substance use (through PEOPLE Employment Services). By deliberately collaborating across sectors to innovate and transform harm reduction practices, this program will begin to address stigma and loss of dignity faced by people seeking help.

With the funding from Health Canada now in place, the City of Kelowna, Urban Matters CCC and PEOPLE Employment Services have formed a project team and will work in partnership over the next three years to build out and implement this new program for our community. If you would like to find out more about Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program, please visit https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-use/canadian-drugs-substances-strategy/funding/substance-use-addictions-program.html

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