I have been employed by Quesnel Shelter and Support Society (QSSS) at Seasons House since the day it opened in May 2008.
I chose to work here because I saw such a need in Quesnel and I share the vision of this board regarding the Minimal Barrier and Harm Reduction philosophy. This has been proven to be best practice around the world by experts in mental health and addictions.
I am a practical nurse, and before moving to Quesnel 12 years ago, I worked in the healthcare field for 25-plus years. Since working at Seasons House, I have been a support worker, case manager, transitional housing worker and shelter co-ordinator.
I have learned that housing first is absolutely the most important first, but at the same time, for this to be successful, there must be wrap around supports for people to succeed.
This has been one of the most difficult jobs at times, but the most rewarding job I have ever had. I feel our team has been able to play a large part in making a difference in the lives of the most marginalized and discriminated against citizens in our community and we have saved many lives over the years.
The first years were a learning curve for all of us and we had to get through by trial-and-error.
Once Melanie MacDonald became our executive director, she worked tirelessly to move this shelter in to the next phase of services.
Our eight transitional housing units were always full and had a long waitlist, so she worked to get the Homelessness Prevention Program in Quesnel. It has been a huge success.
With the support services in place, people have been successfully housed in the community for three years. We have had 178 citizens come forward and have intakes done. Currently, we support 50 people on this program with one worker.
With the opioid crisis, we had no choice but to do something and everything we could to save lives.
There were not enough services in Quesnel to support people needing to access a Methadone/Saboxone program. Their only choices were telehealth through Prince George or travelling to Williams Lake to the Corner Stone Clinic.
The telehealth service in Quesnel had long waitlists and is high barrier and would not accept our clients. Without funding or a way to travel to Williams Lake, this was unrealistic for the clientele we serve.
Physicians from the Corner Stone Clinic were willing to travel here to support people in Quesnel wanting to access their services. They ended up working out of our shelter as nothing was offered by Northern Health for a space to run this operation.
They have been operating at Seasons House for 14 months and are having huge success. They come three times a month and see 18-34 patients a day – proving how great the need is here.
Out of necessity, we were asked to distribute harm reduction supplies as the two places offering the service – Native Friendship Center and Public Health – closed in the afternoon. They could also access supplies at G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital, but clients have repeatedly told us they will not go there to ask for supplies due to what they feel is judgement and discrimination.
Next, we were asked to carry Naloxone kits and train people at risk and the community members who wanted to carry kits. This has been extremely successful and many lives have been saved.
People are coming around the shelter when they fear they may be overdosing. Staff this year have now administered Naloxone 36 times in alleys, on the river bank and in the shelter and so far have been fortunate enough to save each person. People from the community come to us to have their kits replenished when they have had to use them and are allowing us to document and send information to the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) about fentanyl overdoses that have been reversed in the community because of the kits we have supplied.
The latest venture in our community due to the hard work of Melanie is the Rebuild Junction Social Enterprise. Here clients are having case plans done and workers are identifying and looking at ways to support and assist them in barriers that are preventing them from re-entering the work force.
They are receiving much needed job skills and volunteers are donating their time to teach them these skills. This is such a valuable next step for the clients we serve.
It is my opinion, the QSSS board and Melanie should be commended for their vision, dedication and leadership in making such a huge contribution to bettering the lives of the people we have been working with for the last 10 years. They should be used as an example to the rest of the North and the province of what is possible.
We have been doing all this work in an aging building with structural, electrical, plumbing and heating issues. We are bursting at the seams and have been running at over capacity since the day we opened with very little funding increase and no increase in salaries for staff over the years.
The board and Melanie have been working so hard to find a way to offer these services and trying to get a new larger facility we have so desperately needed since 2012, so to have the contract put out to RFP to me is absolutely appalling.
I say shame on Mayor Bob Simpson and council and shame on BC Housing.
I have no doubt that if this goes to another service provider the clientele we serve will once again be forced back out on to the street with no supports and left to die because we are the only organization in this community willing to practice minimal barrier and harm reduction to ensure that every life matters.
I have kept silent up to this point and had put faith in the system, but have been so disillusioned due to the untruths and injustices I have seen and heard throughout this process.
For our mayor to make a public statement calling us a “flop house” when we are clearly a well-organized society offering many proven effective programs, I must say it leaves me with little faith in politicians and, especially, our mayor.
The only politician I have ever seen here was Carole James who made a point of coming in to our shelter on a visit to Quesnel many years ago.
I was fortunate enough to attend the BCNPA Housing Conference in Vancouver in November and heard many world-renowned experts in mental health and addiction speak on the importance of housing, including Johann Hari who has written several books.
The message that was continually repeated throughout this conference was belonging, trust and safety and love and inclusion, all of which the staff at Seasons House excel in providing.
There is the saying, “It takes a community to raise a child.” I believe instead of all the mudslinging from a small number of people from the community and city council, the time could have been better spent working together to find solutions that work for everyone to support the most marginalized citizens of our community.
I appeal to BC Housing to stop the RFP process and get down to the business of getting this much-needed shelter built and continue to work with the QSSS board and Melanie who have been doing such a good job all these years to make sure as many supports as possible are in place and ensure every person in this community has housing and the opportunity to access such crucial and much-needed services.