October 25th, 2020

ARCHES hosting community information sessions


By Bobinec, Greg on November 26, 2019.

Greg Bobinec

Lethbridge Herald

gbobinec@lethbridgeherald.com

Since February 2018, when ARCHES (AIDS Outreach Community Harm Reduction Education Support) Society opened the doors to the Supervised Consumption Site and was part of everyone’s conversation, a lot of misconceptions have continued to spread.

In an effort to dispel the misconceptions, ARCHES will be hosting four community information sessions to inform about the services they offer, along with giving community members the opportunity to ask questions. Faculty at ARCHES say before the Supervised Consumption Site was open, they hosted information sessions, but the community engagement wasn’t there until it opened.

“We opened the Supervised Consumption Site in February of 2018 and there was a lot of misperception in the community that we hadn’t done community engagement, but we did and we had advertised everywhere, but I think because it was in the distant future there wasn’t as much buzz about it at that time,” says Jill Manning, ARCHES director of operations. “It was one of those things that if it didn’t directly affect them they wouldn’t go, but now we’ve had such community conversations around the agency and the services that we provide, and because there has been a focus on the community, particularly two of our programs which are supervised consumption and the needle distribution, but those are only two of 17 programs that we offer and so we know that there is a lot of misinformation.”

Social media has driven conversations about ARCHES and some of their programming far out of context, and with a full organization to run, ARCHES is unable to find and rectify all questions, comments, misconceptions and myths about their services. Through the information sessions, their hope is the proper information will circulate.

“It is an opportunity for us to provide people with information for all of our programs because we do have recovery programs, we do have treatment-based programs that a lot of people aren’t familiar with,” says Manning. “It is also for people to ask questions because we see a lot of it on social media, but it is impossible for us to respond to every single thread and comment, so we would like the opportunity to get accurate information out there and to answer any questions that people have because there are a lot of legitimate and honest questions that we do have legitimate and valid answers to.”

Misinformation about ARCHES such as having multiple supervised consumption sites when there is only one, giving away drugs at the facility, and programming enabling addicts, are among inaccurate pieces of information ARCHES is trying to rectify. Manning says people who still have these misconceptions about their services are invited to the sessions.

“Most of the misconceptions that we have are around the agency that we drive. There is a thought in the community that our programs are enabling humans and that we are just keeping people in the cycle of addiction, as opposed to trying to move people down the road to recovery,” says Manning. “Then some myths that are floating around the community are that we don’t co-operate, we don’t have a relationship with the police; the police are not allowed in the facility. Another one that we hear quite frequently is that we provide drugs, and we don’t.

“There is also a lot of questions towards why we don’t do a needle exchange, a one-for-one type of system. We know that it is not advocated as best practice by the World Health Organization or by Health Canada, and so to go over some of the literature and research of why that is, and to explain that we haven’t just made choices when it comes to our programming, but that our support system is evidence-backed and supported by research.”

The community information sessions will be held from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. today, Dec. 3 and Dec. 5 at the Sandman Hotel – Harvest Room, and on Thursday at Westminster Hall. Participants must be at least 16 years of age, as some of the conversations will pertain to mature topics such as sexual health and substance use. Anyone wishing to attend can RSVP through Manning by email at jmanning@lethbridgearches.com, or by phone 403-942-5543.

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