A life of drugs, crime and homelessness for one Penticton teen has been reversed thanks to support from an outreach centre.
“As a mother of an out-of-control teenager in a community with very limited support for troubled youth, I was helpless to stop my daughter’s downward spiral and had to watch and wait on the sidelines, hoping she would hit bottom and turn to her family for a solution,” said the mother of a client at the Martin Reach Outreach Centre which held its grand opening on Oct. 23.
Rock bottom never came and for the woman who wished to remain anonymous to protect her daughter, her child’s suffering only became more severe over the next five years. The program at the centre, which recently relocated from the Penticton Health Centre on Carmi Avenue to Martin Street, has been invaluable to the family as the daughter is faced with challenges in her journey to sobriety.
The mother spoke of how her daughter’s dark path began as a teenager and how the Outreach Centre has changed their lives.
“At that time she became involved with some of the worst criminal elements in our community and street drugs, which have now left her with a life sentence of several very serious health issues.”
Her daughter had been admitted to the hospital many times as a result of drug abuse. While being treated for a heart valve infection in the spring of 2014, she was introduced to a new initiative, the Intensive Case Management program.
The mother said the program, along with its manager Sharlene Deverill-Franklin, have been a “god send” and an “invaluable ally.”
“I was at the end of my rope emotionally and I was spending many sleepless nights waiting for that phone call, informing me my daughter was dead from an overdose or abuse.”
After seeing the effects first hand, the mother said greater public funding is needed for such programs.
“We need to have programs in place that prevent our young people from creating enormous, lifelong health issues which cost us the taxpayers far in the long run than the Intensive Case Management program working on prevention or intervention,” said Deverill-Franklin. “Our most valuable asset in our country is our young people. Let’s not make them disposable items that can be thrown away through addiction and crime.”
A drug motivated lifestyle was all client Tana Wyatt knew. Crystal meth ruled her life, that is until she found the Intensive Case Management program at the Outreach Centre.
“Now I have a house in my name, I have a very important person in my life and we’ve been together for two years — the exact same time I’ve been a client here,” she said.
While the clinic made invaluable differences before its relocation, those directly involved believe the more practical location on Martin Street will open the door towards treatment for more people.
“When we were working out of the health centre, it was the same idea but it was so geographically isolated that we found there were a lot of no-shows,” said Dr. Kyle Stevens. “Being located down here makes it much easier for them to stop in and ask, ‘is my appointment today or tomorrow?’ Versus up at the health centre.”
Stevens said there are around 350 clients in the program right now, and they’re prepared to see that number grow to be as large as 1,000, though he admits the patient population is difficult to measure, as those with substance abuse issues often don’t vote or have residences. The program works to keep its clients with existing family doctors when possible, but since many of their clients don’t have one, the outreach centre’s new location has been set up downtown to serve as “basically a fully functional general practitioners office.”
MLA Dan Ashton, who attended the grand opening, said he strongly believes the new clinic will benefit the community.
“We all know that healthcare is evolving,” he said. “It’s changing and the order of change, the magnitude is substantial, but it’s organizations and opportunities like this that will hopefully be the way of the future.”
Newly elected South Okanagan – West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings said he and the NDP are also in support.
“Mental health and addictions in particular are something we’ve been ignoring for far too long. They haven’t been treated the way other health issues have been treated. They’ve been put away in the closet and we need to bring them out and help people,” he said. “A community clinic like this is so needed because it can help people who have a hard time going to a family doctor, or would otherwise end up in the hospital and costing the system so much more.”