Frontline groups offer new barrier-free programs to help ‘sick community’
Shopping carts stacked with someone’s stuff. Tents pop up in the wooded areas. People slipped through the gates of public buildings.
These are just some of the symptoms of New Brunswick’s ongoing challenge with homelessness, addictions and mental health.
Charlie Burrell and Debby Warren say the crisis is getting worse and it’s time for all levels of government to fund charities and nonprofits that provide new treatment options they believe will help.
“What you see on the street is the price of doing nothing,” said Warren, executive director of Ensemble Moncton, formerly AIDS Moncton. “And so the price of doing nothing is that we have a sick community.”
Burrell and his team of Humanity Project volunteers serve about 200 meals a day in their building on St. George Street in Moncton. After more than 8 years of talking with people in difficulty, he knows where the gaps are.
“The saddest thing I see is when I see people coming out of a drug rehab program or the prison system and they’re 60, 70, 80 pounds heavier and they’re happy and that they have hope. And then I ask them, ‘Where are you staying tonight, you have to play to stay?'”
Burrell said in most cases they don’t. They soon end up in emergency shelters or living on the streets, and the hope they felt after being clean evaporates.
“I always look at them and say, ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. “I’m sorry, because I know in a week, two weeks, it’s only a matter of time if you stay in this situation. I’m going to see you and you’re going to be 40 pounds lighter and you’re going to use needles again, or you’re going to smoke meth again because we’ve put you back in this environment and we’re waiting for you to be successful.”
Burrell said the salvage farm will include small homes for customers where they will have privacy and learn the skills they need to live independently. It will also include 24/7 support and long-term counseling on addictions and mental health.
“You have to give them the tools to deal with their issues and to understand the triggers when they see them coming and be strong enough to walk away and make a different choice.”
The more options, the better
Warren said with a growing number of people struggling with addiction, nonprofits and charities need more government support to deliver more programs to people seeking help.
“It’s really about options,” she said.
At Ensemble Moncton, Warren and her team already offer a needle program, an overdose prevention site, and counseling and nurse practitioner services. This summer, she hopes to add an injectable opioid replacement program.
She is working with Dr. Sara Davidson of the Riverstone Recovery Center in Fredericton to get it started. The program will provide drug addicts with a prescription for replacement medication that they can inject under the supervision of a licensed practical nurse.
With a recent spate of overdoses, Warren says the program is a way to stop people from buying dangerous street drugs or making other dangerous choices.
“People don’t have to steal… people don’t have to sell their bodies. So it’s a start in that direction. And who knows – as they stabilize, it’s about accessing to other services and assist in their recovery when they are there and ready to do so.”
Study reveals barriers to getting treatment
Ensemble Moncton and Avenue B in Saint John are both participating in a study led by Dalhousie professor Lois Jackson.
In the first phase, 55 people who inject drugs were interviewed about access to government-funded drug treatment programs with the aim of finding out what “facilitators and/or barriers to access” exist.
Barriers included long wait times, lack of programs in some areas, staff judgment, and strict no-smoking policies.
Warren said what works for one person may not work for another, and she thinks nonprofits and charities that want to offer new programs should be supported with government funds.
“I don’t think government should be in the service industry. It’s a personal opinion and observation. Government should govern and I believe nonprofits and charities – that’s really A good price-performance ratio.”
Warren said these groups are able to make decisions and act faster than the government, and frontline workers already have great relationships with their customers.
“It’s more than the individual, it’s the families,” she said. “And we have to do something big. I know that [government is] try in small pieces, but we really have to make it big.”
“Methamphetamine is destroying our city”
Burrell said the idea of a salvage farm, outside of town, was not his.
“This idea came from thousands and thousands of hours of listening to those who are in poverty, listening to those who have difficulty getting help for their mental illness, listening of those who are struggling, struggling with their addiction. That’s where the idea came from.”
When the opportunity to purchase the 187-acre property just 30 minutes from Moncton arose, two businessmen helped Humanity Project purchase it.
Burrell no longer wants to wait for the government to come up with solutions, saying the drug problem is only getting worse.
“Methamphetamine is destroying our city,” he said. It’s scary as hell out there.”
Everyone knows that we have to do more than what we are doing because what we are doing now surely isn’t working.– Charlie Burrell, Humanity Project
Burrell sometimes walks the streets at night and has invited Moncton city councilors to join him.
He requested $3 million in funding from the city over the next three years to pay for capital improvements to the Salvage Farm, including small houses, and to pay professionals to provide drug treatment and of mental health.
“The one thing with meth is that people act fast and react fast. They can go from smiling to violent instantly – instantly. And the change I’ve seen in people is scary, and they need to help.
“Everyone knows we have to do something, everyone knows we have to do more than what we’re doing because what we’re doing now surely isn’t working.”
A spokesperson for the City of Moncton said applications from organizations seeking financial support will be considered later in June.
For Burrell, it’s not about whether the city can afford to do it, but rather whether the city can afford not to.
“Like how much damage and destruction do you want to see around you… with their help we get more people off the streets and help more people much faster which in turn saves us taxpayers money , it heals our community, and it starts building a better community.”
Warren hopes all levels of government will step up their funding to nonprofits and charities with good track records, reminding people that it’s not just people struggling with addictions who are suffering.
“We have family members calling us wondering if their loved one is still alive…and they’re calling on behalf of that adult’s 13-year-old child. That’s what we’re dealing with.
“Guess who’s going to be next for the frontline groups to serve? It’s going to be that 13-year-old kid who was worried about his dad.”
Burrell knows he is no expert on mental health or addiction, but is asking the government to recognize that the experience frontline workers like him have gained can make a difference.
“I deal with mental health and I deal with addiction a lot, but I’m not an expert,” he said. “And that’s why I’ve partnered with people who are
“My forte is dealing one-on-one with people and showing them that someone loves them, cares about them and wants to help them, and then moves them in the right direction.”
Warren and Burrell believe this kind of non-judgmental approach is exactly what is needed to break down barriers to recovery and help those who want to change their lives heal.