iN VIDEO: Moms Stop the Harm remind people on the fringes they 'do matter' | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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iN VIDEO: Moms Stop the Harm remind people on the fringes they 'do matter'

Moms Stop the Harm volunteers visit Kelowna shelter Welcome Inn Thursday, Dec. 22, 2020 to drop off Christmas gifts.
December 23, 2020 - 6:00 PM

On Christmas Eve the 280 men and women who will find refuge at one of Kelowna’s shelters will each find a box of Roger’s gourmet chocolates and two pairs of new socks at the foot of their bed, wrapped in a wish of “peace and comfort” from Moms Stop the Harm.

“Giving them chocolate wasn’t what we were going to do,” organizer Helen Jennens said Dec. 22, before heading out to distribute the bounty at Kelowna’s shelters. She said they usually go about getting the supplies that the city’s street entrenched population can make good use of.

This route was chosen because of limitations borne from COVID-19 and the simple fact that there’s something to be said for getting something special during the holidays.

“This year is a treat year,” Jennens said. “It gives the message ‘you do count — you matter.’”

To that end, Moms Stop the Harm has also set up their signature white and purple Christmas trees in a number of area shelters, as well as the hospital, and tags were made available to those who have lost a loved one to the overdose crisis and wanted to write their name in memory.

The staff and residents of the Welcome Inn Shelter appreciate the donations.

"We have a beautiful Christmas tree, with lights and decorations in our TV area (and) it has brought joy and a lot of smiles to our residents' faces," said Shey Still, site supervisor at The Welcome Inn.

"Holidays can be a challenging time for many, especially when their loved ones are no longer with us to celebrate. We are grateful to be able to honour those we have lost as a result of overdose and share our memories of them in a meaningful way during this holiday season," she said.

Moms Stop the Harm is a network of Canadian mothers and families whose loved ones have died due to substance misuse. They call for an end to the failed war on drugs and envisions a new approach based on reducing harm. They also want people who misuse drugs to be treated with respect, compassion and support.

Jennens involvement was sparked by the 2016 death of her son Tyler.

He was her second son to die by overdose. Just five years earlier her son Rian died from fentanyl use.

Like a growing number of others, both of her boys had a long and difficult relationship with drugs, both of legal and illegal varieties, that they tried to get on top of and ultimately succumbed to.

B.C. is facing a record-breaking year for overdose deaths as the illicit drug supply grows more toxic.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a report issued Dec. 21, there were 153 suspected toxic drug deaths in November, an 89% increase from the same month last year. And until the end of November, 1,548 people have died from overdoses.

The coroner's service says an average of five people died every day in the province last month, and over the first 11 months of the year, 81 per cent of those who died were males. Most died in their own homes, not members of a street entrenched community.

Locally, 55 people died of an overdose in Kamloops, 53 in Kelowna 53 and 23 in Vernon.

Jennens said she can’t help but be discouraged when she hears these kinds numbers.

It was in her sons’ names she was launched into a life of advocacy but in the years that followed her focus shifted.

“It’s not about my boys anymore. It’s how underserved our vulnerable people are and how unjustly they are treated,” she said.

“That this (overdose crisis) is not seen as a medical illness, and it’s still seen as a moral failure or a choice is sad. Stigma is the worst thing we face. Five years with Tyler dying and the numbers being what they are, it’s sad. It’s depressing that we’re going backwards. Sometimes I think ‘why do I bother, we’re not making headway. But if we stop in harm reduction, it will be chaos. It’s already chaos.”

Right now B.C. is in a dual pandemic — there’s COVID-19 and the overdose crisis.

“It’s contributing more to the deaths, forcing more people to use alone and not access harm reduction materials we need. It’s awful, it’s really awful,” she said.

“Everything we’ve learned about addiction is that people need connection. If they’re not connected the using is what they do.”

If people do use, Jennens wants it to be with a safe supply. And she wants to see drug use decriminalized. Both require federal government acknowledgement and intervention.

“The numbers will keep climbing until we face we have to deal with drug addiction and mental illness,” she said.

Until then there are tools she hopes people will turn to so they can ride out the uncertainty of using.

Be Safe is a mobile app that aims to help young adults make a decision about seeking help in a crisis. It’s unique because it was developed in full partnership with youth and professionals and by using information from a vast network of partners, it makes the process of finding the right help quick and easy.

“If they become unresponsive, I can hit overdose button and call 911 and it can get first responders to their home,” Jennens said. It can be found here.

There’s also NORS, an overdose prevention hotline for Canadians providing loving, confidential, non-judgmental support for you, whenever and wherever you use drugs. In Canada call 1-888-688-NORS (6677).

Both tools she hopes people will embrace.

“In every interview, they ask me about my boys and why I do what I do, but my biggest message is this can happen to anybody,” she said. “Fifty-five per cent of people who died last month, died in their own residence. It can happen to anyone. Not just street entrenched. Things need to change for everyone.”


To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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