Grandmothers

In the past couple weeks I have had the misfortune of running into grandmothers, two of them to be precise, one the first week and another last week.

Anyone who knows me well is familiar with how badly I want to be a grandmother so you would think I would enjoy listening to them. On the contrary, it was incredibly difficult.

You see, both of these women have adult grandchildren who are disconnected from their families and lost in the world of addiction and mental health. They called me to see what they could do. Of course they did. Of course they need to know how to help their grandchildren.

That ache takes my breath away every time. Especially when I know there isn’t much they can do for their adult grandchildren. How do I tell them that? You can’t tell Grandmas that. They won’t have it.

They both wanted someone to sweep those “kids” up and take them away and make them better. I explained to them that couldn’t happen unless those grandchildren were a danger to themselves or someone else. Grandmas can be very logical and the response to that was that their grandchildren are a danger to themselves. They are in danger of losing their jobs or cars or homes or children. They are in danger of killing themselves or overdosing. “Why isn’t that enough?” they said. To hear those words so tightly wrapped with love and care left me speechless.

It is impossible for grandmothers to comprehend and accept the idea that their grandchildren have to get worse before they can get forced into help. They were dumbfounded as that idea took shape in their brains. Were they just to stand by and watch things get worse? They were so sad and scared for their grandchildren and great grandchildren and the ripple effect of all of this terrible stress on the whole family.

Grandmas are powerful. That love is unconditional and unwavering. They don’t see addicted adults when they look through eyes of love. They see those children that they are fiercely protective of and they are desperate to intervene. At times in the conversation their voices became soft when they told me stories about their grandchildren and then the frustration would take over and I found out Grandmas can swear with the best of them!

I supported them as best I could, told them to call anytime if they needed to talk. I told them to talk to their friends and family about this and encourage the family members to connect to people and places where they can work out their stress. I reminded them that there are many families who are going through the same thing and reaching out to each other to connect is a good starting place. I told them about the Stand Up Now movement that is happening that they could lend their names to help advocate for appropriate resources for their grandchildren.

I hated to hang up without being able to offer them what they wanted.

Some days I wish I had a tranquilizer gun and a treatment center full of Grandmas.

What’s happening at Safe Harbour?

Lots of great things!

 

We held a scaled down version of our Annual General Meeting last week and although we missed being at Fort Normandeau, the snow convinced us we were right to stay indoors.

 

We knew many people in attendance had questions about the Temporary Overdose Prevention Site trailer that had just landed in our parking lot, but the AGM is a review of the past year and so we needed to start there.

 

We highlighted our Detox program that began life as a “social” detox for our first 11 years. For those of you unfamiliar, there are two types of detox: social and medically supported. Back in the days before fentanyl showed up, the social detox model served our community well. However, we began to see the crisis coming and so did Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services. Through a fantastic collaborative effort including our front line staff, we made the shift to a Medically Supported Detox on November 1st, 2017. From that date to the end of August this year, we have detoxed 871 people.

 

That collaborative effort was a gift straight from God. What it meant for the people we serve and our staff team was that we would always have a Registered Nurse and an LPN on shift 24/7 inside the Harbour. Amazing, and not only that but a Doctor would be at the Harbour for an hour or two every single day.  This is the stuff dreams are made of.

 

The results have been outstanding. Kathy Schepp, head Nurse and program developer, came in and worked her magic. Dr Michael Mulholland, who was already “Harboured” and so enthusiastic about this service, started recruiting physicians who may be interested in shining their lights in this Harbour of ours. What a great passionate group he found.

 

Our previous detox team and leadership teams were true Harbour staff in their welcoming of this change. They knew well what it would mean for the people we serve and they were also relieved to have that medical support right there with them. Change brings choppy waters to the Harbour but our team navigated through admirably. I’m so grateful to be able to Captain such a crew.

 

This Medically Supported Detox is really great news for the broader community. You are able to know that people who need emergency health care are being served. As a parent you know your son or daughter is being monitored by a medical team. An extra bonus is that we as a community are saving a whole bunch of money!  This program frees up chairs in the waiting room at Emergency. It minimizes our calls to EMS and it is also frees up hospital beds!  Instead of us taxpayers paying 1500.00 a night at the hospital we save 1400.00 bucks because it only costs around 100 bucks to stay at the Harbour. Good deal hey, you can’t argue with that logic.

 

We save money again, in this circumstance. Right now buddy could come to detox and need the hospital to stabilize him for a bit. Before the medical detox was operating he would stay in the hospital for a few days to be monitored medically. Now what can happen is we can send buddy up for stabilization and then because there are nurses here who can monitor him, they can free up his hospital bed and send him to the Harbour as soon as he’s stabilized rather than taking up a bed there.

It is so great to have these exceptional collaborations at play daily at Safe Harbour. We are all learning so much from each other.

 

Currently, we have a new trailer in our parking lot. It arrived on Wednesday morning last week. Once again Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services have responded to the crisis we see around us every day by empowering and resourcing Turning Point to respond temporarily in the safest way possible for everyone.

As with any crisis, first things first, we have to go pick up the wounded. That’s all we need to say about that because I still believe we are a community who responds appropriately to crisis.

 

Will this Temporary Overdose Site clean up the community and make all our troubles go away? Of course not, but what it will do is ensure that those people who are “choosing” to use don’t have to die while they are doing it. Dead people don’t go to treatment.

 

This initiative is a small but necessary drop in a big bucket, but without question it is a move in the right direction.

Like the Medically Supported Detox, the Temporary Overdose site comes with resources we’ve never had before such as:

  • a security staff on the property every hour it’s open dedicated to managing the property in collaboration with a harm reduction staff
  • increased lighting in the parking lot,
  • a site liaison to monitor foot traffic between Safe Harbour and Turning Point
  • Needle debris cleanup will be enhanced
  • Most importantly for us there will be a safer place for people to inject than across the street where they used to be

 

Safe Harbour was always supporting Turning Point as the ideal location for these safe consumption services. We stood by the voices of the people actively using who said Turning Point was the best place to be and we knew that a high percentage of overdoses are happening in our downtown. However once we knew that Little Gaetz would never be considered for these types of services and with the recent announcement from the Minister of Health on Red Deer having the highest overdose rate in the province per 100,000 people, we knew we had to help where we could.

 

This Temporary Prevention Site is necessary whether we like to believe it or not. Ask any loved one of an addict who is injecting. They ache for their loved ones to come back from the brink of death, as we all would.

 

Much more needs to happen to make the difference we all want to see in Red Deer. Stay tuned for an invitation to lend your voice.

 

Until next time and in true Captain fashion,

Steady as she goes.

Fed Up

Through everything I’m reading on the current state of homelessness, addiction, mental health, camps and safe consumption sites in our community, there is a common theme.  We are all fed up, really, really fed up. Each of us has our reasons for feeling that way but fed up we are.

  • Mayor and Council are fed up with having people blame them for the overdose deaths in this community.
  • Downtown businesses are fed up with the behaviours of the homeless and addicted and how that behaviour is affecting their customer base.
  • Families with loved ones who are addicted are fed up with the lack of immediate resources and are shamed into silence by the ugly stigma that suddenly refers to their family.
  • Front line agencies are fed up with the discriminatory barriers that are continually blocking the appropriate health interventions necessary in this time of crisis.
  • Others are fed up with Mayor and Council for interfering with research based health solutions.

 

So here’s the deal as I see it.

The Issues:

  1. We have a group of people who are not welcomed “in” anywhere in our community. They are the young men and women (20-35 yrs. old on average) in our community who are actively using substances. They are our young families. They are your neighbours sons or daughters. They are your brothers or sisters.
  2.  85% of them are from Red Deer or Central Alberta so we kind of have to claim them as our own. Some of their families have been here for generations.
  3. They are dying at an alarming rate.
  4. We are failing them.

 

I think we can all agree that we need to do something and what we’re currently doing isn’t working that great.  If we think about this logically, common sense shows us two options:

 

  1. We do what the experts in the field tell us to do.  Typically in a crisis of any sort we look to our experts in that particular field to provide leadership, experience, knowledge, research and best practice. Then we do what the experts suggest. For instance, if we had a chlorine disaster, Mayor and Council and the rest of us would rely on those experts to tell us what to do. We need them because what do we know about chlorine disasters?  This makes perfect sense. Yet, with this crisis things are different somehow. For some reason, we dismiss experience, research, knowledge and best practice and instead make decisions based on personal belief or experiences.  Why? I think it has to do with the idea of “choice”. We wouldn’t choose a chlorine disaster, that’s beyond our control and addicts are choosing to use substances so you can’t really compare the two. Trouble is I don’t believe that anyone would choose to live their lives the way addicts end up. I’ve never heard of anyone saying as a child that when they grow up they want to live on the streets and use drugs and have people in their community hate them and wish they would hurry up and die and clean up their mess before they go.  That’s sounds crazy, but that’s what we are suggesting by the idea of choice. The thing is people aren’t having any fun. This isn’t partying. This is survival. They are self-medicating the toxic stress in their lives with substances.  That perceived choice and their particular “medication” brings them to disaster far sooner than those of us who are medicating by  drinking to oblivion in the sanctity of our homes, or shopping until the debt strangles us, or eating  junk until our body starts yelling at us, or working until we don’t know our families anymore. That is self-medication too! The difference being the ugliness of all of these medications doesn’t rob us of our homes and families as fast.  For those of us not addicted to such dangerous substances, it’s very easy to think that your loved one is choosing this destructive lifestyle over a healthy one. That idea can make you lose your mind in frustration. They just need to stop. They have to stop. They are losing everyone that was beside them. They might die! None of who they appear to be makes any sense, and then you remember. You remember the people they were before and you know deep in your heart that “in their right minds” they would never choose to live this way. I think we hang on to the idea of choice so we can stand farther away and point our fingers. The idea of choice creates that comforting old “us and them” and allows us to distance ourselves from the addict and relieve ourselves of any obligation and/or compassion. It reminds me of the early days of HIV when I was doing needle exchange. So many times I saw compassion withheld until the cause of the virus was known. You received the compassion if you contracted your HIV through a blood transfusion but nothing else. Rather than thinking about choice in a definition many can’t understand, we need to worry about the fact that the young men and women in our community are dying and as a community we are letting them die. We are doing that by not listening to the experts and assuming we know better.  For all of you out there who do listen to those experts and are eager to help in any way you can, we need you and we need a great deal more of you to open your minds and hearts and shine your lights in these dark places. We have to build a place that welcomes. Otherwise, we need to…..

 

  1. Ban the addicted, homeless and mentally ill people from the community. Whenever I say this people think I’m kidding but I’m really not. If we are not going to provide the services these people need, we shouldn’t let them stay here.  If the consensus is that they are not welcome and we agree to the suggestion that we should do nothing and let natural selection take care of the problem, it would be more humane to ban them than to watch them slowly die and do nothing.

 

 

If you are someone who thinks Option 2 is crazy, it is you who I am speaking to. I’m going to be sending out a call to action in my next column and I need all of you in this community of Central Alberta who know that it’s time for us to do something to answer. Those of us who believe our responsibility is to help each other. These are our young men and women. We need to get a big bright light of community support going on. We will show the families in our community who have loved ones who are out there deep in the crisis that Red Deer is a community that really does support its most vulnerable people and cares more about their wellbeing than anything else.

That kind of action is what we refer to at the Harbour as shining your light. Once its shining it is a Harbour light! Many of you are a Harbour lights already. You are the people who have shone your lights in the Harbour, through donations whether it’s money or socks or food or boots. You’ve thought of us, you’ve been interested in what we are doing and supporting our work however you can. You are our current Harbour Lights and I need you now to turn your lights up a little brighter.

To all the kids in the community who have collected socks and snacks and toques and mitts and water, we need you too. You care about people unconditionally and your lights are the brightest. Your mom and dad can show you how to work the Call to Action button and you can shine your light too! It will be a powerful one because we need that unconditional love all over and you can tell all your friends to be a Harbour Light too!

I’m calling out to all of you families who are impacted by a loved one’s addiction and struggling so hard with all the ripple effects of that. There is such a heavy burden of shame that is associated with addiction, not only for the addict but also for the families. This shame  can keep you from sharing your truths with even your closest friends; they might get some of the story but not all of it. I’m calling on you to overcome that fear and lend your voices by pushing that Call to Action button that can make a difference in the resources your loved ones desperately need.

 

I’m calling out to all the friends of those families who can see all the pain the families are going through and don’t know how to help them, the Call to Action button will help us so we can help when you can’t.

 

I’m calling out to all of you who are faith based. This is the time for “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers”. Currently in this community this group of people who are actively using substances and camping all over the place are “the least”. I need your belief to turn into action. Your non-profits need your light shining on them right now. Help them as they try so hard with limited resources to do what God is telling all of us to do: to help each other, even when we don’t like it, especially when we don’t like it.

 

We have to come together, all of those who are ready to shine our lights. There are dark places in this community that are aching for light. Will you be one of those lights? Can you support when you don’t understand all the complexities of the problem? If you believe in love and community you can. Leave the complexities to the experts who are trying so hard to break through the stigma and discrimination in order to provide lifesaving health solutions.

 

Red Deer may be ready for the Winter Games but this is a whole other game. We are not ready to be all we say we are, a welcome and inclusive community who support each other and do all they can to help others, if we continue to allow our fellow Albertans to suffer and die Let’s get ready, let’s shine those Harbour lights and start a love revolution. Let’s show those young men and women in our community that we care.

It’s love revolution time!! Spread the word and keep your eyes out for the Call to Action button!

What If?

I’ve tried over the years to make sense of the wacky world of addiction, mental illness and homelessness. I’ve asked questions at every opportunity, I’ve read the current research and I dove into the history. I’ve listened to the people who live with chronic addiction and to their families who desperately try to love and support them. I understand the community fears and frustrations and the funding systems limitations.

Through it all I ask myself over and over again: What if?

What if we had never recognized the lack of basic humanity in slavery? Or in witch hunts. Or in the horrors of the holocaust? When we look back at such things now we think, “What was the matter with those people? How was it okay to treat people like that?” That kind of thinking begs the question, “In 50 years will they be asking us the same thing in regards to our feelings and services for those who are chronically addicted and homeless? Will it horrify people to look back at what we are doing now?”

I was amazed while I watched the City of Calgary rally around all of those so devastated by the flood they had years ago. That spirit of community was much deeper and wider than those flood waters could ever be. It had ripples that travelled across the country. I remember how weird it looked to see those waters pouring into the downtown. You can hear about a flood but seeing it happen is a different story.

Of course my line of work with homeless people made me think, “Wouldn’t it be so cool if we did that with all the homeless people?” Immediately my logic brain kicked in and I thought, “Well Hoffman, that’s ridiculous. This is an entirely different situation! Those flood victims had no choice in the matter!”

But, is it really? Homeless is homeless. Losing everything is losing everything no matter the cause. Those losses are traumatic for anyone who experiences them.

One difference was that the flood victims knew that the whole of Canada was worried about their welfare and they had millions of people empathizing with them. Donations by the millions came in. People came to help each other clean up! It was fantastic!

It made me wonder about the criterion that is needed for that kind of support across the board. Can it be that level of concern and compassion is only doled out if people “deserve” it?  Yet we know housing is not a right, it is a basic human need. You might argue that these flood victims were hard working citizens of their community. They contribute, they have families, they know how to behave and they make smarter choices in their lifestyles. Therein lays the issue. It looks for all intents and purposes that the folks we see on the streets are choosing their lifestyle. No one in their right mind would choose that.  It can’t be that when they were a teenager they sat on the edge of their beds and said “I want to be addicted and live on the streets when I grow up.

I think the answer is the “in their right mind” statement.

We have learned more about the working of the human brain in the last 20 years than in the 100 before that. We know now about the role that toxic stress plays on the developing brain. That means that brain chemistry plays a huge part in our understanding of addiction.

What if you start using a substance as a kid and find that it really helps you self-medicate that toxic stress?

What if your environment supported nothing but that?

Had I only heard about the flood in Calgary and I didn’t see it, I would not have been as impacted. We watched that water and it was so powerful. What if we could see the “flood” of trauma that surrounds all of those we serve at the Harbour? What if we grew up in the same environments they did? What if we saw the abuse? What if we felt the effects of a lifetime of chronic homelessness and addiction and disconnection? Would we respond differently?  Would we still expect these people to get up and get to work? What if with the way their brains are currently working that the idea of choice is mute?

We know without a doubt that many of the people we serve at Safe Harbour have had a lifetime full of toxic stress and trauma, and have been unable to sustain the healthy connections we all need to survive. We know the effects of all of that on the developing brain and add toxic substances to that mix….. So, if you are one of the unlucky ones who lived an environment full of toxic stress and your brain did not develop properly as a result…..do you have a choice in the matter? As Gabor Mate’ says in his book, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts”, “their brains didn’t stand a chance.”

Travis Moore Legacy Fund

Travis Moore Legacy Fund

The Red Deer and District Community Foundation has announced the establishment of a legacy endowment fund aimed at helping those less fortunate in our community stay connected with their loved ones.

Read full story here.

Welcome

As always, my first duty as Captain is to welcome you to Safe Harbour, an organization made up of a group of people who are dedicated to shining their lights in their community.

Shining our lights is a phrase we use often around the Harbour. For each of us it means something different. In every program and with every individual we come in contact with, we adjust our lights accordingly. I’m not only referring to the people we serve but also to the broader community. There are a lot of dark spaces in Red Deer and they are not only occupied by the people we serve.

Red Deer has had a small town feel to it for a very long time. It was the reason I moved here. Through the years we’ve grown into a thriving city with big city issues. They aren’t new issues there are just more of them. In the mid 90’s I was doing a mobile needle exchange in Red Deer. I traversed every neighbourhood in Red Deer. The affluent people who were injecting used my service rather than be seen buying the quantity of needles they needed. The general public was amazed at that time that such a service was necessary. During those days I was rarely downtown, the problem was widespread throughout the city. That was 20 years ago.

Our City has grown; no doubt about it and it will continue to do that. With that growth comes need and it is vital for all of us in this community to accept that and plan accordingly. If we continue to be afraid of solutions that are outside the social norm, where these people live, we will be wasting our time, and too much time has been wasted already. Stigma, discrimination and shame are the blankets the people we serve are covered with and their burdens are heavy. Their families experience the same.

If we work together on connecting these people to our broader community rather than disconnecting them, change will start to happen.  A Tibetan piece of knowledge fits here.

“The root of all suffering comes from the belief that we are disconnected.”

This all sounds nice and wonderful until my truck gets stolen, or my addicted kid steals my money, or I see needles at the splash park where children play. At those times my compassion will get swallowed up by my fears. That’s not wrong; it’s just not helpful to stay there too long without doing anything to help.  

Our biggest challenge as a community is to accept that people who are addicted are sick. Their brains aren’t working properly. Everything in their lives is secondary to the addiction. We don’t understand that because we aren’t there. We can prioritize our lives not because we have more willpower or strength or magical powers. We can do it because we were lucky enough to have our brains fed with what they needed to develop. Brains need 3 things to work properly, glucose, oxygen and relationship.

When fear becomes the dictator of service or lack of service we are guilty of cowardice. Martin Luther King once said that

“Darkness cannot dispel darkness. Only light can do that.”

That means we must be brave enough to meet our challenges head on and appropriately. It is the collective “we” I’m referring to. Safe Harbour cannot solve all the problems the City is experiencing; neither can the RCMP or Alberta Health or the City of Red Deer. It is all of us working together and providing our unique solutions to this very complicated and complex health issue that will make a difference. As complicated as it is we must be diligent in providing collaborative and innovative strategies.

Remember that we serve 6 types of people at Safe Harbour. Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.  Safe Harbour is dedicated to keep our lights shining on them.

It would be lovely to have you join us in that effort. Shine your unique light into the Harbour; help us as we do our best to make sure no one struggles alone. Be a part of the solution, be a Harbour Light!

Until next time, steady as she goes.