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I’m mourning the loss of “Community”

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Community
By Ilan Cooley

I find myself mourning the loss of community. It is nearly extinct, if not already dead. Growing up, I think we just took it for granted. As a farm kid, people came from miles around for brandings, weddings and funerals, and if something went wrong, at the very least someone would show up unannounced with a casserole.

I remember several years ago, my dad’s stubble field caught fire and a wicked west wind threatened to take it a hundred miles. It would have, if every neighbour within driving distance hadn’t come with a hoe, or shovel to stomp it out, as my dad heroically harrowed a perimeter to stop it in its tracks.

I recall a visiting family member being caught off guard as the rally cry came in around our house. All were roused and already loading vehicles as he called after us asking why we didn’t just call the fire department. When you are born into it, you understand the fire department is 30 minutes away and
you and your neighbours are the first line of defence. In smaller towns I suspect community still exists in ways it does not here in the lonely urban sprawl, but I think even there its heartbeat is weakening. Community used to spring up in churches and at dances, picnics and other such celebrations, but there is less of that now. Nothing would be thought of a neighbourhood pop-in. These days, the hatches are battened down tight, and it’s disheartening that doorbells often only ring when solicitors call.

I remember when I moved into my first new home. I was so excited to meet my neighbours that I baked Christmas cookies and took them door to door. I was met with confused stares and awkwardness. It didn’t take long before I no longer baked cookies, or bothered dropping off a baby gift for couples I barely knew. I know it is my decision to stop that has taken the sentiment of community away from me. I know I should try again. A lot of this reflection has been brought about because I recently saw a glimmer of hope. I witnessed the best example of community I have seen in a long while.

As a friend of mine battled cancer, people rallied around her in a miraculous way. She had lots of friends, and it seems she was a stakeholder in a large number of communities. There were her church friends, soccer team friends, running friends and family. They came to visit in her final weeks and days in droves, and I saw how it brightened her spirits. At her funeral there were stories of how one special lady had brought so much joy, light and life to the people she knew, and the groups she joined. It was there in that Baptist Church pew that I had a realization that community isn’t something that happens, it is something you create. On Friday, Doris would have turned 71. She was my own mum’s age, yet I considered her a friend because she treated me like I mattered. She made me feel important, and did so for many others, because she was a wonderful community builder.

On Sunday some of us will get together to run for the cure in her honour. She had survived breast cancer twice and also fought lung and brain cancer. We will come together as friends and will hopefully prove there is a pulse left in community. We wonder why people feel isolated these days, but we are all contributing to it. Let’s try harder and do better. We need each other.

(Published with permission)

Ilan Cooley is an Edmonton based entrepreneur and writer. She is a an avid world explorer, rescue dog mama and community builder.

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Addictions

‘Harm Reduction’ is killing B.C.’s addicts. There’s got to be a better way

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Susan Martinuk 

B.C. recently decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. The resulting explosion of addicts using drugs in public spaces, including parks and playgrounds, recently led the province’s NDP government to attempt to backtrack on this policy

Since 2016, more than 40,000 Canadians have died from opioid drug overdoses — almost as many as died during the Second World War.
Governments, health care professionals and addiction experts all acknowledge that widespread use of opioids has created a public health crisis in Canada. Yet they agree on virtually nothing else about this crisis, including its causes, possible remedies and whether addicts should be regarded as passive victims or accountable moral agents.

Fuelled by the deadly manufactured opioid fentanyl, Canada’s national drug overdose rate stood at 19.3 people per 100,000 in 2022, a shockingly high number when compared to the European Union’s rate of just 1.8. But national statistics hide considerable geographic variation. British Columbia and Alberta together account for only a quarter of Canada’s population yet nearly half of all opioid deaths. B.C.’s 2022 death rate of 45.2/100,000 is more than double the national average, with Alberta close behind at 33.3/100,00.

In response to the drug crisis, Canada’s two western-most provinces have taken markedly divergent approaches, and in doing so have created a natural experiment with national implications.

B.C. has emphasized harm reduction, which seeks to eliminate the damaging effects of illicit drugs without actually removing them from the equation. The strategy focuses on creating access to clean drugs and includes such measures as “safe” injection sites, needle exchange programs, crack-pipe giveaways and even drug-dispensing vending machines. The approach goes so far as to distribute drugs like heroin and cocaine free of charge in the hope addicts will no longer be tempted by potentially tainted street drugs and may eventually seek help.

But safe-supply policies create many unexpected consequences. A National Post investigation found, for example, that government-supplied hydromorphone pills handed out to addicts in Vancouver are often re-sold on the street to other addicts. The sellers then use the money to purchase a street drug that provides a better high — namely, fentanyl.

Doubling down on safe supply, B.C. recently decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. The resulting explosion of addicts using drugs in public spaces, including parks and playgrounds, recently led the province’s NDP government to attempt to backtrack on this policy — though for now that effort has been stymied by the courts.

According to Vancouver city councillor Brian Montague, “The stats tell us that harm reduction isn’t working.” In an interview, he calls decriminalization “a disaster” and proposes a policy shift that recognizes the connection between mental illness and addiction. The province, he says, needs “massive numbers of beds in treatment facilities that deal with both addictions and long-term mental health problems (plus) access to free counselling and housing.”

In fact, Montague’s wish is coming true — one province east, in Alberta. Since the United Conservative Party was elected in 2019, Alberta has been transforming its drug addiction policy away from harm reduction and towards publicly-funded treatment and recovery efforts.

Instead of offering safe-injection sites and free drugs, Alberta is building a network of 10 therapeutic communities across the province where patients can stay for up to a year, receiving therapy and medical treatment and developing skills that will enable them to build a life outside the drug culture. All for free. The province’s first two new recovery centres opened last year in Lethbridge and Red Deer. There are currently over 29,000 addiction treatment spaces in the province.

This treatment-based strategy is in large part the work of Marshall Smith, current chief of staff to Alberta’s premier and a former addict himself, whose life story is a testament to the importance of treatment and recovery.

The sharply contrasting policies of B.C. and Alberta allow a comparison of what works and what doesn’t. A first, tentative report card on this natural experiment was produced last year in a study from Stanford University’s network on addiction policy (SNAP). Noting “a lack of policy innovation in B.C.,” where harm reduction has become the dominant policy approach, the report argues that in fact “Alberta is currently experiencing a reduction in key addiction-related harms.” But it concludes that “Canada overall, and B.C. in particular, is not yet showing the progress that the public and those impacted by drug addiction deserve.”

The report is admittedly an early analysis of these two contrasting approaches. Most of Alberta’s recovery homes are still under construction, and B.C.’s decriminalization policy is only a year old. And since the report was published, opioid death rates have inched higher in both provinces.

Still, the early returns do seem to favour Alberta’s approach. That should be regarded as good news. Society certainly has an obligation to try to help drug users. But that duty must involve more than offering addicts free drugs. Addicted people need treatment so they can kick their potentially deadly habit and go on to live healthy, meaningful lives. Dignity comes from a life of purpose and self-control, not a government-funded fix.

Susan Martinuk is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and author of the 2021 book Patients at Risk: Exposing Canada’s Health Care Crisis. A longer version of this article recently appeared at C2CJournal.ca.

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Community

$1,000,000 boost from province for upgrades at Red Deer’s Centre for Social Impact

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BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS OF RED DEER RECEIVES $1,000,000 CFEP GRANT IN SUPPORT OF THE CENTRE FOR SOCIAL IMPACT

Youth HQ is proud to announce that Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Red Deer and District has been awarded $1,000,000 through the government of Alberta Community Facility Enhancement Program (CFEP) for the purpose of facility upgrades to the Centre for Social Impact.

The Centre for Social Impact (CSI) is an inspiring place where charities and non-profits can
collaborate; a place centrally located where families can readily access a variety of supports and
services; and a place where organizations can share resources and minimize operating costs.
“We are grateful for the support from CFEP, which enables us to address facility enhancements
and upgrades in support of the charities and non-profits that share this place where community
connects.” States Rob Lewis, Executive Director, YouthHQ.

Board Room at the Centre for Social Impact. Priority upgrades are the roof of the building and the HVAC systems

“Investments into non-profits in our communities, like Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Red Deer
not only support new activities and programming but uplift youth and help build stronger
communities. Alberta’s government is proud to provide this million dollar grant to Red Deer Big
Brothers and Big Sisters, as they provide essential supports and services for the youth of Red
Deer and surrounding area.”

Tanya Fir, Minister of Arts, Culture and Status of Women

“The CFEP grant awarded to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Red Deer and District is very
exciting news for Red Deer and surrounding communities. This substantial investment will
directly benefit our community by supporting essential youth programs, providing lasting
benefits for our youth in the years to come. I was happy to write a letter of support, as I am
continually inspired by the work Youth HQ does in our community. This grant will undoubtedly
enhance their ability to make a positive impact.”

MLA for Red Deer-North and Minister of Health, Adriana LaGrange

Conferencing area at the Centre for Social Impact. Priority upgrades are the roof of the building and the HVAC systems

For more information on the Centre for Social Impact please visit www.youthhq.ca

About Big Brothers Big Sisters of Red Deer and District

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Red Deer and District enables life-changing mentoring relationships
to ignite the power of young people. Providing life changing mentoring experiences since 1976,
Big Brothers Big Sisters has been matching children and youth with adult role models who help
them achieve their biggest possible futures. We believe we are #BiggerTogether, and currently
work with over 220 young people to ignite their potential.

About Youth HQ

Youth HQ empowers youth by fostering a community of support. Our network seeks to instill
young people with confidence in their unique identities and abilities, providing them with skills
for life through knowledge, healthy relationships, and quality experiences while providing safe
environments to learn and grow. Youth HQ coordinates programming for Big Brothers Big
Sisters of Red Deer & District and Boys & Girls Club of Red Deer & District, offering numerous
programs and services that support children, youth and families.

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