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New outreach group hitting Kamloops streets to talk to vulnerable populations

(via Shutterstock)

A new non-profit group, the Peer Ambassadors Network (PAN), is tackling mental illness, homelessness and addiction in a new, direct way.

The project focuses on providing services to people located in the North Shore. The group spent several weeks training ambassadors (many have some lived experience with addiction or homelessness) in carrying out life-saving procedures such as CPR, dealing with overdoses and, in extreme situations, calling 911. 

Pairs clad in blue patrol by Overlanders Bridge and North Hills Mall to provide support to the homeless, people struggling with addiction and the mentally ill before they hurt themselves. The goal for the group is to provide an alternative solution that doesn’t require law enforcement to get involved, according to project co-ordinator Glenn Hilke.

“They are there to engage people, not in a rushed manner but in a very calm and compassionate manner, taking as much time as it try to understand what people are struggling with,” he tells KamloopsMatters. “What do they need help with? What kind of resources are available to them that they didn’t know about? How good (do) they connect to them?”

Funding comes from Interior Health and the B.C. Government Community Action Initiative.

Hilke notes that these types of people have often had a negative experience with the police; they are more trusting of PAN ambassadors because of that.

The non-profit group is yet to encounter any life-threatening or dangerous situations. 

Hilke says Kamloops doesn’t have enough resources to cope with these challenges, despite the general public thinking otherwise.

“If I wanted to go into detox right now, if I called the Phoenix Center, I’m sure I would be told that it’s full and there is a waiting list,” he says. “If I needed to get into a shelter, 99 per cent of the time, I’m going to be told that it’s full.”

PAN hosts weekly meetings to discuss experiences, logistics and to evaluate the effectiveness of the project. Hilke says it's currently in a pilot stage for now. A full edition will arrive in September.

“Addiction is a brain injury,” Hilke says. “Poverty is a chronic problem for a lot of people, that force people a lot of time...into desperate situations.”

PAN works in collaboration with major government organizations such as the RCMP and Canadian Mental Health Association. 

For more information on the group click HERE.