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Addiction and Homelessness: Some Thoughts

Earlier this week I went to watch the documentary Us & Them. A brief summary from the website: "using the First Nations Medicine Wheel, a woman sets out to help four homeless people but they end up helping her."

The film explored both addictions and homelessness- two issues that need to be addressed in our community.

Of the two women featured, one suffered extreme trauma and abuse as a child. The other started her adult life as a mother of three children. At one point, she underwent five surgeries to remove tumors. She was prescribed narcotics for pain management. In the middle of these surgeries, she lost one of her children. The narcotics numbed her extreme emotional pain, leading to addiction.

Often “bad choices” get brought up in conversations about substance abuse. However, I’ve seen addiction up close in the lives of loved ones. I’ve had experience helping with it in my professional work. And I’ve worked hard to learn more about it. I truly believe that it is a mental health problem mostly brought on by trauma, circumstances, and lack of meaningful community.

Addiction is a HUGE issue in our community. I don’t think we can end it. But we can do a way better job of prevention, mitigation, and [where possible] healing. We can also end a serious problem wrapped up with addiction: homelessness.

I am excited to be working with the Mayor, other Councillors, and City staff who are eager to engage with these challenging issues. I am thankful for the incredibly dedicated non-profit and government service providers we have. I’ve been impressed by the engagement of many local businesses. And I am relieved to see the provincial and federal governments ramping up their resource provision.

However, these groups cannot do it on their own. Current challenges require our entire community to get mobilized. We need to be a community that is showing interest in and offering help to our friends, neighbours, and colleagues. We need to be a community which works hard to build informal social supports. And we need to be a compassionate community.

People are struggling, suffering, and dying here in Grande Prairie. Many of them are visible if you visit downtown, Muskoseepi Park, or Rotary House. Most of them are not visible as they go about their “ordinary” lives and jobs. We need to do better by both groups. I would absolutely love to hear from you about how Council can do a better job of addressing addiction and homelessness. Please share your ideas. I really want to hear them.

However, The City of Grande Prairie isn’t going to heal these problems. I don’t think that is within the responsibility or ability of government. But what it can do is resource and partner with the individuals and organisations that are making a difference. So I hope you will consider getting involved.

You can get involved in formal ways by volunteering. The Saint Lawrence Centre , HIV North Society Grande Prairie, and Grande Prairie Friendship Centre are just three of many excellent organisations to checkout.

Whether you officially volunteer or not, this community needs your informal engagement.

If you haven’t already, I hope you will take some time to educate yourself about the problems facing our neighbours. Two great places to do that: on Tuesday (Nov 14), checkout the Fentanyl Forum being held at Bowes Family Garden at 7:00pm. Or visit www.usandthemthefilm.ca and rent the documentary.

I also hope you will join me in working hard at being aware of, compassionate toward, and actively kind to those we encounter as we go about our days. Personal connection is the best tool we have in addressing mental health problems.

I love Grande Prairie because it is a community that cares. Let’s figure out how we can harness our compassion into more direct and effective engagement with our most vulnerable and hurting citizens. Thanks for reading my thoughts. Please share your thoughts about what we can do as individuals and as a community. Share them with me. But more importantly, share them with your friends, families, and colleagues.

Thanks again,

Dylan