“The Harm Reduction Peer Empowerment COVID Recovery Project is meeting people where they are with mutual respect and kindness,” says Sonja Burke, RHAC’s Director of Harm Reduction. “The impact is: value and validation, a full stomach, equal pay for equal work, and human connection.”
Since launching in January, the project has welcomed 6 peers who work various shifts during the week, helping to prepare harm reduction and wound care kits. They are paid hourly, receive a warm meal, and are provided public transportation to and from our site. “It is a warm and safe place for people to be during the day versus on the streets," says Sonja.
Since the onset of COVID-19, the demand for harm reduction supplies has only increased. A growing number of clients are counting on RHAC’s harm reduction kits, which are made available through our 26 partner satellite locations, regular outreach services, and the new HOME program (www.homeprogram.ca). The Peer Empowerment project allows us to meet this demand and values the participation of people who use drugs by engaging them in our response to the ongoing opioid crisis and COVID-19 pandemic.
People experiencing addiction need access to safe and supportive spaces that can foster human connection. This is especially true during COVID-19, when isolation measures are impacting marginalized folks and the availability of services. Our peer program provides a space where participants can make connections with each other and to other supports (including housing, food banks and health services).
We’re pleased with the positive impact this new program is making and—with the support and input of our peers—we expect this project to continue improving the lives of people experiencing addiction. Thank you to Jackie Hutchison our Peer Support Coordinator, to the Emergency Community Support Fund (London Community Foundation) and, most importantly, our peer participants for supporting this important and impactful initiative!
Here's what our peers had to say about this new project:
“I feel accepted and part of a group that understands me and doesn’t judge me.”
"My life is better since this started."
"I wake up feeling like I have a purpose each day."
(Photo: Peer Support Coordinator Jackie Hutchison)