Gitlaxdax Nisga’a Terrace Society hosted a community outreach walk to raise awareness of the at risk homeless community in the downtown Terrace area Aug. 3. The walk was followed by a round table discussion about moving forward with an outreach program to help Nisga’a people who might be struggling with addictions and homelessness.
Haisla Nation outreach and peer support worker James Harry Sr. was in attendance during and after the walk, speaking from his experience working with Haisla people struggling with addictions, mental health and homelessness in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Born and raised in Kitimat, Harry Sr. founded the All Nations Outreach Society as a way of continuing that work.
“We’re trying to bring awareness that our people out there are hurting, they’re lost and they’re running from those inter-generational traumas that are still happening in our communities. Unfortunately they end up in the hubs of Terrace. Prince George, Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo and sadly that might be the last place they see because they fall into a life of alcohol and drugs, and we all know what’s going on with the opioid crisis.”
He said the idea of the outreach is to “meet them where they’re at” and help people who are struggling with homelessness and addiction regain the hope and motivation that they need to get back on their feet.
“We go to their comfort zone and we take them out of that dark place,” he said.
“We have a movement happening here with this outreach program and this outreach program is going to catch people who are falling through the cracks. The ones that don’t have a voice and the ones who are lost.”
Gitlaxdax Nisga’a Terrace Society CEO Karla Frank said they’re in the process of putting together their program and how it’s going to be rolled out. Frank said they have approval for one full time and one part time peer support worker to support and advocate for at risk Nisga’a citizens in the Terrace service area.
“We’re putting together our safety plans, protocols, best practices,” Frank said.
“Our peer support workers will be out in the community, boots on the ground, building relationships with our citizens who may be homeless, at risk or struggling with mental health and addictions.”
She said they’re not trying to “re-write the book on what’s out there” in terms of available support and will focus on making a connection, letting people know that they are cared for.
Gitlaxdax Nisga’a Terrace Society Board of Directors Chairperson Christina Azak, representatives Keith Azak and Arthur Mercer attended the event. Also present were City of Terrace councillors Brian Downie and Dave Gordon.
Harry Sr. said it’s “pretty safe to say” that every First Nations community in B.C. has at least one member in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.
The Haisla were the first to initiate a program to go and find their members, offering them the option of returning home to their communities. He said people leave their communities for a variety of reasons and become lost in the bigger centres.
“There’s no better feeling than to have someone from back home, of your Nation, come look for you. And to know that you’re still loved, you’re still cared for and you matter. So the plan is to support the other Nations that are coming onboard with us,” he said.
“The Gitlaxdax are putting action to their words. Gitlaxdax has stepped up now and they’re going to help their people. They’re going to bring in their culture and that friendly face… Our whole focus is to let them know they’re loved, to let them know they’re not forgotten and, if they want, we’ll bring them home.”
Harry Sr. said that by getting to know people who are unhoused or dealing with addictions, people can also build compassion and understanding for their situation.
“The bottom line is they’re human beings and we can’t forget that. They’re our brothers and our sisters.”
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