Kingston organizations come together to support drug addicts

The Lionhearts Warming Center on Concession Street will use new funds to provide art therapy and a laundry service training program for people with substance use disorders. Photo by Geena Mortfield/Kingstonist.

A new grassroots initiative uses a $1.34 million grant from Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program to meet the needs of people who use substances in the Kingston community.

“The idea here is, really, this concept of giving people a second chance, where they can reclaim their own life. In the end, [this] will reduce costs to both health and social systems,” said Candice Christmas, project manager for the initiative at a press conference for the funding announcement on Thursday, November 10, 2022.

The initiative, “Support Not Stigma,” was developed after local non-profit organization Trellis HIV and Community Care (formerly HIV/AIDS Regional Service or HARS) secured funding. Working in partnership with Kingston’s Integrated care center (ICH), the initiative is multi-pronged and relies on partnerships with a handful of local organizations to provide support to those who have used or are using substances, and their families.

“We are very grateful to Health Canada for their foresight, because this particular grant application really looked at people who used substances and who are homeless in a very holistic light in terms of holistic care,” said Christmas, who has also spoke about her own experiences as the mother of a teenager struggling with drug addiction.

Ted Robinson, chairman of the board of Trellis HIV and Community Care, said he was grateful for the support from the federal government, but more resources are still needed to provide services to vulnerable people in the local community. “We would like nothing more than not to need places like the comprehensive care centre,” he told attendees.

Other programs that are part of the initiative range from training for people who work with people who use substances and a public anti-stigma and education campaign, to job training and paid employment for those who use or have used substances. A research project to gather more information about the population of women under 30 who use substances but do not use shelters, health and/or social services will also be part of the initiative. The building at 218 Concession St., Lionhearts Warming Center, will also be used as part of the initiative to provide a “safe space” for people who use substances to participate in art therapy. These programs fall under five main areas of work recommended under the Integrated Care Center 2021 Needs Assessment:

  • Specialized training for people who work with people who use substances
  • Building community through creativity
  • Support a regional anti-stigma and education strategy
  • Low-barrier vocational training and gainful employment
  • Outreach to an underserved population
The laundry facilities are still under construction in the warming center and will be used for a new professional training program in laundry service. Photo by Geena Mortfield/Kingstonist.

Christmas, who was one of the people who submitted the grant application, said the bulk of the budget will go towards providing salaries to people who use substances through a variety of job training internship programs. These programs would pay people using the services of the integrated care center to provide services at the center by learning skills in laundry, building maintenance and catering. After a two-week training program provided by Restart Kingstonworkers enter one of three paid internship programs, run by Lionheart Inc.. Revenue from services provided by course participants will be reinvested by Lionhearts to maintain the program.

“It’s not a charity, but a helping hand. It’s a real practical step in life, but [also] just reminding people how important they are – every individual has a meaning, a purpose in life,” Travis Blackmore, executive director of Lionhearts Inc., told Kingstonist. “It’s not just about making a job easier; life is much more than that for all of us.

Christmas said that while most of the initiative’s programs were scheduled to start in the new year, some programs, like the job training program, have already started. Funding for the initiative is being released in three installments, with the final installment scheduled for the new year.

As part of efforts to support people who use substances, Christmas highlighted the need to reduce stigma around this population, which leads to feelings of isolation and concealment of substance use. And there’s a big reason why this support is needed locally: According to the Ontario Regional Coroner’s Office, drug poisoning deaths in the Kingston community have increased by 40% between 2016 and 2020. .

Candice Chrismas, Head of Engagement for the Support Not Stigma Project, speaks to the media during a press conference launching the project on Thursday, November 10, 2022.
Photo by Geena Mortfield/Kingstonist.

As part of efforts to support people who use substances, Christmas highlighted the need to reduce stigma around this population, which leads to feelings of isolation and concealment of substance use.

“It’s not a matter of moral failure, it’s a medical condition, and they have a right to access that care,” she said in an interview with the Kingstonist. “Because believe me: most people who use substances do so in the shadows. And many of those people could be your neighbor or co-worker.

For more information, visit the Support the Not Stigma website.

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