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WEDNESDAY, October 13, 2010

NEWS BRIEFS Simpson out

Cariboo North MLA has been expelled from the B.C. NDP caucus for criticizing leader Carole James. James released a statement just after midnight Thursday to announce the move. “Through his public comments today, Mr. Simpson has made it clear that he would rather criticize our work than contribute to it,” James said. “He has made it clear that he does not want to be part of our team.” The move came after it was revealed that the Cariboo North NDP constituency association planned to call for a review of James’ leadership. A motion up for consideration describes the party as “wilting” with James as leader, with membership and donations down. Simpson also posted a commentary on a local Williams Lake news website in which he criticized Premier Gordon Campbell for a lacklustre speech at the recent Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler. Then he added: “The Leader of the Opposition likewise had little concrete to offer the delegates other than a commitment to be more consultative than the current government and a promise to explore the possibility of revenue sharing with local governments.”

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VOL. 33 NO. 33 $1.34 inc. GST

Helping those who need it more facilities required By Tasleem Mawji Caledonia Courier The New York tour bus made its way through Harlem as the driver announced, “This is one place that you don’t want to get off the bus. “I have been working on this job for many years and I’ve never had a customer yet get off here.” Sylvia Sharon Isaac got up and said, “I want to be the first.” Although Isaac was born and raised in Fort St. James, she was no stranger to big cities or bad neighbourhoods. In fact she was travelling across Canada and the U.S. alone, using her savings from working at a women’s shelter in Vancouver, specifically to visit the places where no one else wanted to be. Her trip took her from Vancouver’s downtown eastside, where she had once been an alcoholic living in Oppenheimer Park, across the provinces and into places like Brooklyn and the Bronx. She was doing hands-on research that would lead her back to her hometown of Fort St. James to try to open a drop-in centre for the aboriginal street population that she said does not have the services it needs. “Every time (an aboriginal person) want(s) to cry out and say they’re hurting, welfare always gets involved and their kids get taken away,” said Isaac. “So I decided I’m going to come up here. I’m going to survey the land and survey the people and see what is lacking here.” Isaac found that there was a lot lacking. She found there is nowhere for the street population to spend time inside and the counselling services in town are not equipped to work with the long-term needs of the street population. There is also no food bank, and low-income, needy, and marginalized people are only fed one free breakfast one day a week. This breakfast service, which attracts about 20-50 people a week, is provided by the Fort St. James Alcohol and Drug Counselling Services. The program director of this service, Louise Evans, agrees with Isaac. “We really don’t provide any services for what would be considered the homeless/street population,” she said. “And it’s a very big frustration for us because they are visible members

Sylvia Isaac (second from the right) hands out salmon sandwiches to people hanging out in front the Fort St. James Hotel. Tas l eem Maw j i P hoto

of the community who have needs that we are unable to meet.” “They have medical needs and basic physical care needs and we just don’t have the ability to provide that.” The street population in Fort St. James is different that those in large cities in one major way: Although many of these people are poor and unemployed, they are not considered homeless. There are, however, people who stay in the bush when the weather is warm and hunt for food from time to time. And some stay out all year. But the majority stay at the homes of others at night, often in large groups, and either by choice, or not, have a lifestyle that centers on street life. They are considered couch surfers. “They spend a lot of time just out on the street,” said Evans. “That’s where they get their social contact. They often will drink and use drugs out in visible places in the community.” And that alcohol and drug use is what Isaac said is a Band-Aid for underlying problems. “Basically everybody’s story is the same damn thing. They leave sexual abuse. They leave the abuse of childhood and they run away to the streets.

“They go to the streets thinking they’re going get away from everything. But everything gets worse in the streets and then the abuse cycle starts all over, and this time it’s self abuse of alcohol and drugs,” said Isaac. Isaac has been clean and sober for 12 years now. And, in that time, she received 36 certificates in counselling, trauma, children who witness violence, sexual abuse, childhood abuse, and anger. She developed what she calls a system of profiling people. “Most of them drink for so many years that they forget why they drink,” she said of people who live on the streets and suffer from substance abuse problems. “By profiling people I get them to sober up by pointing out where the trauma is. When they know where the trauma is and deal with it they can sober up.” Isaac has approached both the District of Fort St. James and Chief Fred Sam of the Nak’azdli First Nation for funding. In the last council meeting the district did not offer funding, but Mayor Sandra Harwood said the district would help Isaac to apply for external grants. Sam said that the Nak’azdli band would be open to assisting with partial funding in collaboration with the Yekooche First Nation, the Tl’atz’en First Nation and the District, who he

said decides on the use of buildings in town. Nak’azdli recently agreed to fund a Men’s House on the reserve, which opened in December 2009. Donald Prince, who runs the dropin centre, said that it provides three meals a day, showers, laundry services, used clothing, internet and TV. It is also a place to just hang out for any male, aboriginal or non-aboriginal, facing difficulty or not, and from Fort St. James or elsewhere. Prince said the health of some of the men improved with regular access to healthy food and a social environment that does not include alcohol or drugs. But although he is grateful for the funding, it was a long time coming, he said. “There was a lot of hesitation … for people to acknowledge that this was an issue.” And that is the problem Isaac said she faces. The Fireweed Women’s Collective provides help for women who are experiencing domestic abuse problems, but there is no equivalent to the Men’s House for women and families in Fort St. James. “(We) need a building. We need a building where we can call it our own … We need a building where it’s just freedom to acknowledge each other as human beings,” Isaac said.

CCNA - Best Feature, Tasleem Mawji  
CCNA - Best Feature, Tasleem Mawji  

CCNA 2011 Premier Award Finalists Best Feature Story - Circulation to 3,999 Tasleem Mawji, Fort St. James Caledonia Courier