A new Abbotsford police-led initiative funded by the province is giving former drug addicts a chance to help combat the city’s opioid crisis.
Dubbed “Project Angel,” the program connects addicted clients who are in need of support with peer support workers who were once in their shoes.
With that worker’s help, the client is then directed to resources that can help them combat their addiction.
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“What we do is take some of the load off first responders, make relationships, and hopefully create pathways to recovery and treatment,” Abbotsford Police Department Const. Ian MacDonald said.
One of those people who knows what it’s like to live as an addict is Kiah Ashley, the peer support coordinator who runs the program and connects workers with clients.
She lived on the streets from the age of 12, and says that experience helps inform her work with the project.
“It’s what makes me good at my job,” she said. “I know what it feels like to be alienated from society, isolated, and to be angry.”
Project Angel is in its second year, and MacDonald said the program has already seen 250 referrals.
The province handpicked it out of 13 similar community-led programs from across B.C. seeking government funding, which MacDonald sees as proof the project is working.
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“These people aren’t here for money,” he said about Ashley and her team of support workers. “They’re doing it because they were once living that life. They’re compassionate people and they’re driven.
“The only way you affect change is if you see people as people, instead of as problems.”
In a statement, the ministers overseeing the project said they were proud of the work undertaken by its leaders and by Abbotsford police.
“Peers have been integral to our ongoing response to the overdose crisis and they are uniquely qualified to help people living with addictions along their pathway to hope and healing,” Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy said.
“Collaborative interventions like Project Angel help rapidly mobilize services and are standout examples of police departments taking leadership on the ground,” Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth added.
Each peer support worker is equipped with an orange backpack that contains a naloxone kit, blankets, a first aid kit, a cell phone and resource manuals — all meant to help clients in need.
Ashley herself has responded to people asking for help, and is often seen visiting parks where homeless people congregate to ensure they’re well.
She said the work has opened her eyes to how the opioid crisis could be solved simply by bridging communication gaps.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth and mending of relationships between generations you may not expect to see eye-to-eye,” she said.
“It’s been really inspiring to see the results of this.”