Team approach needed for outreach in Chilliwack says councillor

Coun. Jason Lum said it's with mounting alarm that he publicly points out the paltry state of addiction outreach services in Chilliwack

Coun. Jason Lum

Coun. Jason Lum

A city councillor is calling for an intensive case management (ICM) team to be funded for Chilliwack.

It’s something Jason Lum says is needed desperately to address the ballooning numbers of homeless and addicted people in Chilliwack.

Coun. Lum, who chairs the public safety advisory committee said it’s with mounting alarm that he points out the paltry state of addiction outreach services in Chilliwack at the moment.

“I would like to see a fully funded ICM team for Chilliwack now that we have seen the population requiring these services grow so quickly and exponentially in Chilliwack,” said Lum. “It would be a welcome investment.”

That would be in addition to the informal Chilliwack “outreach team” that is trying to provide some support from local partner organizations.

But a dedicated ICM team, fully funded and staffed by Fraser Health, would take a multi-disciplinary approach to helping the addicted street population by brokering health and social services related to recovery and housing.

Whereas the last homeless count in Chilliwack only found 73 people living rough, recent estimates are that numbers are now closer to between 300 and 400 on the streets of Chilliwack, with several homeless camps popping up in forested areas. An action plan is being implemented.

A longtime addictions outreach worker in Chilliwack retired last summer after more than a decade with Fraser Health.

One of two positions planned to replace the retiring worker was filled by someone who went on sick leave and is just returning to duties. The other part-time outreach position, a .4 FTE, has yet to be filled. So there has been an absence of any coordinated outreach for months.

Lum called up the psychiatric nurse coordinator, who is now also providing some outreach services, according to Fraser Health, to find out what type of coverage they had in terms of streeet outreach services to help to the neediest on the streets.

Outreach workers strive to meet street people where they are, at their level, to offer support, on a regular basis.

“They make referrals, while all the while building relationships and trust over time,” said Lum. “Trust and relationships are the biggest things to establish and we know that outreach workers are the first important links to help them on path to get housed.”

Fraser Health spokesperson Jacqueline Blackwell offered this response to the question of what is available in Chilliwack now in terms of street outreach.

“After Fraser Health’s addictions outreach worker in Chilliwack retired this past July, we successfully recruited a person to fill the vacant position. The previous role provided coverage five days a week, with no coverage during vacation or sick leave,” according to the statement by Fraser Health.

“When our addictions outreach worker announced his retirement, we took this opportunity to enhance our outreach services in Chilliwack to provide coverage seven days per week.

“Our plan is to have two people dedicated to outreach services to provide this coverage, as well as coverage of vacation and sick leave time. Furthermore, we have also engaged the Riverstone Home/Mobile Detox team to provide vacation and sick leave coverage when required.

“In addition, we recently recruited a registered psychiatric nurse who has been working with several community partners to provide outreach to the severely addicted and mentally ill population in the Chilliwack community.”

The timing couldn’t be worse for Chilliwack however, Coun. Lum pointed out, to have only spotty coverage in place for addictions outreach.

“My understanding is that they are having challenges,” said Lum.

The crux of the problem is that while Fraser Health may have a plan for more complete coverage, it’s not currently in place.

One part-time position remains unfilled.

“They say they want to provide seven-day coverage, which is good, but my understanding is that it’s currently not the case, and people are suffering.”

When he spoke to the nurse coordinator, she was “doing outreach as best as she could,” but not on any consistent basis.

“A one-person show makes it a big struggle,” Lum said.

He knows the nurse will be working with the ad hoc Chilliwack outreach team, drawing on community partners, but an ICM team would be a better approach.

“I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but it is imperative that City of Chilliwack receives these critical outreach services from Fraser Health, because without them, even more people will continue to slip through the cracks.”