Kingston organizations come together to support substance users

The Lionhearts Warming Centre, located on Concession Street, will use new funding to offer art therapy and a laundry service training program for those with substance use disorder. Photo by Geena Mortfield/Kingstonist.

A new local initiative is using a $1.34 million funding award from Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addiction Program to support the needs of those 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 lives back. In the end, [this] will reduce both the costs to the health and social systems,” said Candice Christmas, project manager for the initiative at a press conference for the funding announcement on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022.

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

“We are so 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 much holistic light in terms of wrap-around care,” said Christmas, who also spoke about her own experiences as the mother of a teenager who struggled with substance use.

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

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

  • Specialized training for people who work with people who use substances
  • Building community through creativity
  • Supporting a region-wide anti-stigma and education strategy
  • Low-barrier vocational training and paid employment
  • Outreach to an underserviced population
Laundry facilities are still under construction in the Warming Centre and will be used for a new Laundry Service Vocational Program. Photo by Geena Mortfield/Kingstonist.

Christmas, who was one of the individuals who submitted the grant application, said that most of the budget will go to providing wages for people who are substance users through a variety of vocational training internship programs. These programs would pay people using the Integrated Care Hub’s services to provide services back to the Hub through learning laundry, building maintenance, and food service skills. After a two-week training program provided by ReStart Kingston, workers move into one of three paid internship programs, run by Lionhearts Inc. Revenue from the services provided by internship participants will be reinvested by Lionhearts to maintain the program.

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

Christmas said that while most of the programs of the initiative are scheduled to begin in the new year, some programs, like the vocational training program, have already begun. Funding for the initiative is being released in three installments, with the final installment coming in the new year.

Support Not Stigma Project Engagement Manager, Candice Chrismas, speaks to media at a press conference launching the project on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022.
Photo by Geena Mortfield/Kingstonist.

As part of the efforts in supporting those who use substances, Christmas emphasized the need to reduce the stigmatization around this population, which leads to feelings of isolation and hiding substance use. And there’s substantial reason this support is needed locally: According to the Regional Coroner’s Office of Ontario, deaths related to drug poisoning in the Kingston community increased 40 per cent between 2016 and 2020.

“This isn’t a question of moral failing, this is a medical condition, and they have a right to accessing that care,” she said in an interview with the Kingstonist. “Because believe me: most people who are using substances are doing so in the shadows. And a lot of those folks could be your neighbour or your work colleague.”

For more information, visit the Support Not Stigma website.

One thought on “Kingston organizations come together to support substance users

  • Maybe if a person who relished his substance abuse hadn’t threatened to kill me with a hunting knife, I might not write this comment.

    It was a robbery attempt of a lone employee, working at night. “I want all the money in the cash register and the safe, or I’ll kill you.” Did he need training for the laundry or food service industry? He already had a good-paying roofer job. Did he feel a need for art therapy? He didn’t offer a decorative hold-up note. Did he suffer from a social stigma of using illicit drugs? No, he wanted lots of easy cash to buy drugs and getting high, (with no real concern if he killed somebody to get them). Unfortunately, I made an escape, frightened off his getaway car accomplice, flagged down a taxi, and relayed his description and location to the police, (who promptly caught him). “Not guilty,” was his plea, until he saw me in court ready to identify him, (despite a shave, haircut, and nice suit). He got a minimal sentence added onto his long criminal record, by changing his plea; and, I got nothing but a bad memory of that night, (not even a “thank you” from my employer).

    While I find it commendable to help the homeless and offer job training, I wonder why paid internships will be offered to people who continue to use illicit drugs and who believe society oppresses them with a punishing stigma. How reliable will these interns be? Would I want a drug addict working as a cashier or to have the keys to my apartment building? How secure are the jobs of co-workers, whose pay isn’t funded by this program? Will the co-workers lose hours off their work week? And, I find it insulting that this program will spend federal grant money on “a public anti-stigma and education campaign” to cajole people with messages that being addicted to drugs, (like other vices), shouldn’t suffer from any stigma, (even if they litter sidewalks, parks, and playgrounds with used needles). The money could be better spent on emergency shelters, transitional and social housing, (not more programs, such as art therapy, that try to normalize homelessness and substance abuse).

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