Reach Out Chatham Kent Missions received a $710,000 grant from Health Canada to expand a peer program for people experiencing experiencing homelessness or substance abuse.
The program currently operates weekly out of Chatham, providing low-barrier access to information, harm reduction supplies, community outreach and support.
Between 2016 and 2020, Chatham-Kent experienced a 280 per cent increase in opioid-related emergency department visits and a 400 per cent increase in opioid-related deaths.
“We can’t ignore the opioid poisoning epidemic happening across Chatham-Kent,” Renee Geniole, ROCK Missions’ operations co-ordinator, said in a release Tuesday.
“These rates may sound staggering, but they only scratch the surface of the true prevalence of opioid poisonings in our community, or the immense cost of living through this crisis. Hundreds of opioid poisonings go unreported due to systemic barriers that continue to marginalize people who use substances.”
Geniole said that “lack of access to services, stigma, medical violence and criminalization are “examples of barriers faced by individuals the group works with.”
The program began in November of 2020 when community agencies identified a need for more peer engagement.
A support team was created and people with lived expertise, who fulfilled roles as leaders and caregivers in their communities, were engaged to join.
“We’re grateful that Health Canada recognizes the importance of this initiative,” Geniole said. “We’re excited to expand the services to the smaller communities in Chatham-Kent that have less access to the support they need. . . . We recognize that we could not do what we do without all of Chatham-Kent behind us.”