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  • Gayle Baker

Would Salt Springers be Unstoppable if Listened to Each Other and Worked Together?

October 1

Ten gathered to welcome David Norget and Sherman Sherwood to discuss mental health trials and triumphs on Salt Spring. This ASK Salt Spring gathering was in our wonderful Meadow on a lovely fall day, likely the last one before the weather gods chase us away for the season.

After offering the Territorial Acknowledgement, David asked us why we had come to learn about mental health. A resounding theme was the exhaustion and stress of our struggle with COVID that has challenged the mental health needs of so many in our community.

Balancing his emergency mental health professional responsibilities and private practice with community work, David then told us about the Mental Health Initiative of the Salt Spring Health Advancement Network (SSHAN) that he co-chairs.

This Mental Health Initiative has initially focused upon developing strong interpersonal relationships and sense of community among the development team, a team comprised of those with lived experience of mental health challenges as well as providers addressing these issues. Already offering Wellness Wednesdays, published regularly in the Salt Spring Exchange, in November, the Initiative will also conduct the first of a series of Summits, focused on peer support/lay counselling. The mission of the Initiative’s Summit Project is:

To bring together the Salt Spring Island community - providers, users & residents to mobilize cooperatively around issues and needs of/for mental wellness, co-creating a community where everyone belongs.

We learned that a key element of this Mental Health Initiative is to increase community connections. These connections can be established by listening meaningfully to each other as well as strengthening the relationships between users of services, providers, and community members.

David spoke of the importance of addressing the needs of our more marginalized community members - IBPOC, LGBTQI2A+, children, youth and families, insecurely or unhoused, those challenged with mental health, less abled, and seniors. In his opinion, meaningful listening is the first step toward moving our community, suffering from divisions and separateness, toward unity.

According to a member of the Initiative:

When I talk about the Initiative, I talk about a group that is working to provide space to hear people's voices in the community so that we can move to fill in the gaps that exist, along with information and education sharing.. . .

I also talk about the dream of peer support in the community that would again provide a voice that has gone unheard and work towards empowering individuals and the community.

Sherman spoke poetically of a Salt Spring of two decades ago that was magical, with widespread acceptance and intermingling of all islanders without judgment. In his opinion, this acceptance has been lost, and the magic has dissipated.

SSHAN’s Mental Health Initiative seeks to begin to erase these divisions, reestablishing those connections between all of us, and address the needs, gaps, and issues around mental wellness. We learned that by renewing our care for each other, we will also be caring for our own mental health.

Our community has supported this Mental Health Initiative well, with funding partners that include:

  • Salt Spring Island Foundation,

  • Island Health Community Wellness, and the

  • CRD through its Grant-in-Aid

When asked about mental health services on Salt Spring, we learned that many agencies provide mental health services. Some of these include:

  • Our School District 64;

  • Community Services;

  • Islanders Working Against Violence;

  • Island Health (including Adult Mental Health & Substance Use, our hospital, public health, and our Doctors);

  • First Responders; and

  • Salt Spring Community Health Society, recently graduating over 50 Mental Health First Aid volunteers.

We learned that while mental health services have improved as a result of COVID, many still require wait time as well as a referral. Unfortunately, mental health issues often cannot wait, too often resulting in an emergency visit to Lady Minto or even an RCMP intervention, neither of which are optimal longterm solutions.There also continues to be confusion about where to go for each specific situation.

Progress addressing mental health issues is far more difficult when the basic needs of housing, food, and safety are missing. For too many, trouble finding adequate housing has impeded progress addressing mental health issues. While many are still inadequately or insecurely housed, progress worthy of celebration has occurred:

  • The Community Services shelter is now has funding for 24/7 year round operation, an impressive gain over the recent seasonal and limited hours. Folks will be able to access showers and a laundromat whenever they need them.

  • Community Services has also opened additional shelter spaces in a recently acquired adjacent home. (When the weather turned cool and wet this fall, those seeking shelter were welcomed.)

  • Croftonbrook and Salt Spring Commons have recently opened, and Croftonbrook is constructing its next phase.

  • Funded by BC Housing and operated by Community Services, some rooms in Seabreeze Inne continue to provide accommodation for those in need, also providing isolated lodging options for those dealing with COVID.

  • The Islands Trust Housing Task Force is working hard to develop recommendations to guide us toward solutions.

  • There is also hope that Federal Rapid Housing and/or BC Housing will soon provide even more housing for those in need.

Recognizing that housing needs vary significantly from person-to-person, an encampment was mentioned as a housing option that would be perfect for many. Despite efforts, no suitable property has been identified, and it appears that this option is not on the current affordable housing horizon

When it was mentioned that concerns of Centennial Park rowdiness appear to have dissipated, we were discouraged to learn that folks may have only moved elsewhere. We were told that the camera in the Park was a game changer and that many who had formerly gathered there have moved, seeking another spot.

A participant suggested that Salt Spring needs a safe, regulated place were folks can congregate (with their dogs) to drink and socialize. Based on the conclusion that folks will drink anyway, we learned that other larger cities are providing monitored beer gardens to address this issue rather than chasing folks from one place to another, never actually addressing the problem or the need.

While some theorized that housing issues stem from a plethora of bylaws, we were reminded that these bylaws were often created to limit irresponsible actions. Despite success creating affordable housing options, it was suggested, that the full range of housing issues are complex, generating many different opinions rather than consensus toward a common goal.

The enormous amount of energy available through our volunteer community was identified as a powerful force that is not always adequately-supported, due to a divided community and a complex bureaucracy. Wagon Wheel Society was used as an illustration of this: The laundromat was successfully-completed thanks to the efforts of its volunteers, but support from funding agencies was woefully-lacking. It was postulated that if Salt Springers united to work together toward a common goal, it would be unstoppable.

Despite this weighty conversation and the apparent effects of COVID on our entire community, as 1:00 approached, a moment of retrospect was offered: When ASK Salt Spring began almost exactly two years ago (October 4, 2019), our shelter offered only seasonal and limited hours, the new shelter home adjacent to Community Services had not been acquired, outreach services were far less adequate, neither the new Croftonbrook housing nor Salt Spring Commons had been built, Centennial Park was a large concern for many, and the Islands Trust had not established its Housing Task Force.

As we packed up our chairs and gratefully thanked Sherman and David for an enlightening, if troubling, conversation, many of us realized that, despite many challenges facing us, some progress has certainly been achieved.

Please join us next Friday, October 8, 11-1, to welcome our MLA, Adam Olsen, to answer your questions listen to your concerns, and work with us to find solutions.

Come to our new fall location: the Dome in front of our Elementary School on Rainbow Road. While it will be protected from wind and rain, it is not heated, so please dress warmly. (As we learned in Scotland: There is no bad weather, just wrong clothing.)

Bring your favourite hot beverage and a smile.

Chairs and chocolate chip cookies provided.

See you this Friday, October 8, at the Dome to welcome Adam!

Any question, anytime:

Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?

Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We would love your receipts! Remember: #15

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