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“It really is about reclaiming that land,” VYPER leader Marcella Sunshine said last week. “There’s a lot of people who come to our powwow at St. Mary’s who actually went to that residential school as children and there are some people that can’t come because it’s too painful. We want to honour and respect both sides of that.”

Mission City Record, July 4, 2023

In Mission, a powwow was held on the grounds of the former St. Mary’s Residential School. Organized by youth-led non-profit VYPER, the powwow aimed to promote Indigenous cultural revitalization. Helena May, a VYPER spokesperson, emphasized the importance of reclaiming their roots and history.

Mission City Record, July 2, 2023

In Mission, a Canada Day weekend powwow on the grounds of the former St. Mary’s Residential School. It was organized by a youth-led non-profit, VYPER, with the goal to promote Indigenous cultural revitalization.

“My great nana Helen — she went to this residential school and it changed my family forever, it changed our history,” said Helena May, a VYPER spokesperson. “We’re reclaiming our roots, taking back our history and becoming strong together.”

Global News, July 1, 2023

Throughout the long weekend, VYPER (Visionary Youth Peers for Equity and Revitalization) is hosting its second annual ‘Reclaiming Youth Powwow’ on the historical grounds of the St. Mary’s Residential School at 34110 Lougheed Highway in Mission.

“I think it’s important that on Canada Day, our Indigenous people have a space designated for them to come and celebrate being an Indigenous person while living on what we call Turtle Island,” VYPER leader Marcella Sunshine said.

The event will feature dancing, vendors, food, games and free overnight camping. The powwow will include food trucks, breakfasts in the morning, and a feast on Saturday night.

Mission City Record, June 29, 2023

Those of us who have not experienced homelessness might not recognize this reality. One of us (Nicholas Blomley) began research on this topic on this assumption. Naively, he asked groups of homeless people to provide stories describing their experience with belongings.

Connie Long, the second author of this article who has experienced homeless, explained that there is no one singular experience of loss. Instead, Connie described a “constant whine, a hum” of dispossession.

Other participants drove this point home. “So it’s not just losing your stuff once, it’s losing your stuff again?” we asked a resident of Surrey, B.C. resident. “Over and over again,” they replied.

The hum has been studied through our research and the advocacy of others.

Our project interviewed nearly 100 people — either homeless, or in positions of authority relative to homeless people — in Toronto, Vancouver, Surrey and Abbotsford, B.C. We worked with peer-based groups, like Drug War Survivors, in Abbotsford.

YGK News, June 19, 2023

“We are consciously portraying the reality of this woman’s experience in North America during colonialization and, in doing so, we also are committed to not only telling the truth from her perspective, but also committing to reconciliation,” a press release states.

Proceeds from 1885 go to VYPER (Visionary Youth Peers for Equity and Revitalization), a youth-led group that hosts weekly cultural nights in Abbotsford among other cultural events province wide.

VYPER powwow nights connect people to cultural dancing and the making of traditional regalia.

Abbotsford News, June 13, 2023

Matsqui-Abbotsford Impact Society helps facilitate a federally funded camp clean-up program in communities including Mission and Abbotsford.

“People in camps don’t have access to garbage pick-up, don’t have access to all the supplies that they need,” said Brittany Maple, director of peer programs for the society.

“We bring garbage pickers and garbage bags and gloves and all the things that people need to clean up,” she explained. “Primarily folks that we’re working with are current members of the street community or have a history with the street community.”

CTV News, June 9, 2022

“Creek waters beside tents were rising after the rain,” recalled Jesse Wegenast, executive director of 5 and 2 Ministries, a nonprofit that distributed harm reduction supplies including sterile needles and naloxone to residents of the streamside camp.

The evacuation alert prompted some tent-dwellers to hitch rides to emergency shelters. Others moved elsewhere outdoors.

“The displacement was a problem. Any time there is an interruption to routine services, vulnerabilities increase – there’s no question about that,” Wegenast said.

Brittany Maple is the director of Matsqui-Abbotsford Impact Society which oversees a network of drug survivors who provide harm-reduction services. She said, “when people are displaced like this, so is their natural community.”

At the Sumas Way encampment, overdoses are common. But so are life-saving reversals — “because peers there are looking out for one another,” Maple said.

Vancouver Sun, November 24, 2021

The event was hosted by the Drug War Survivors (DWS) and led by their program coordinator, Brittany Maple.

That morning, the B.C. Coroners Service released a statement about the state of the opioid crisis in this province. The first six months of 2021 saw 40 per cent more overdoses than the first six months of 2020.

“It’s an ongoing issue and policy needs to change,” Maple said. None of those deaths have happened in supervised injection sites.

“So we know what the answers are,” she said. “We need to push the government to act and we need to listen to people with lived experiences.”

And often, she said, it’s the drug users themselves that are coming up with solutions.

Abbotsford News, September 1, 2021

By all accounts, Shantz was a confrontational man with a temper, severe PTSD and methods for fighting for the rights of the city’s homeless that could be called into question. At the same time, no one questioned his passion for that fight.

“People who were homeless in Abbotsford felt like they had a lightning rod who was going to take the hits for them,” said Brian Gross, a friend of Shantz and the executive director of the Matsqui-Abbotsford Impact Society. “People felt safe because Barry was willing to put himself out there and say the difficult things for them and it wouldn’t fall back on them.

“And it did fall a great deal on him … It did take a toll.”

Shantz was killed by Lytton RCMP officers after they were called to his home on Jan. 13. The call was placed by his wife, Janet, who reportedly said he might have been suicidal and had a gun.

Abbotsford News, January 29, 2020

A group of people who have real life experience with drug use in British Columbia and Yukon is calling on the B.C. government to support a community-led mechanism for a safe drug supply, in order to combat deaths from poisoning by powerful adulterants like fentanyl and carfentanil.

The BC-Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors is requesting that Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy immediately enact an order that provides a legal framework for drug buyers clubs, starting in particular with diacetylmorphine, or heroin.

The order would fall under B.C.’s Emergency Health Services Act, similar to the ministerial order that allowed for the rapid establishment of overdose prevention sites in December 2016.

Abbotsford News, September 1, 2019

Local drug users and their supporters rallied Tuesday to call for the legalization of narcotics in response to the the ongoing overdose crisis’s staggering death toll.

Carrying signs and chanting “Safe supply saves lives,” around 50 people affiliated with the Drug War Survivors marched from a meeting at Abbotsford Community Services to the intersection of Essendene and West Railway, where they staged a rally.

Several people spoke about the toll the overdose crisis has taken over the past several years and the loss of loved ones in recent years. They called for more support from the City of Abbotsford, and access to a safe supply of drugs.

Abbotsford News, April 16, 2019

“There’ll be some memorializing of the people we’ve lost. We’ve lost a number of people in just the last few weeks, so it was important to us that there was a memorial aspect to it,” said DWS program co-ordinator Amanda Bonella.

Bonella said the community needs to examine prohibition and how the criminalization of drugs – and those who use them – facilitates the contamination of the drug supply.

The introduction of fentanyl into the illicit opioid market, and the subsequent contamination of other substances, is often attributed to its ease of importation due to the significantly reduced quantity required for a dose.

“And that is killing people, and we need to be able to have a real dialogue about how do we get people a safe supply,” Bonella said.

“That is the point of the day of action, a Canadian-wide, unified messaging that this poison – enough is enough. And the pharmaceutical version of all of these drugs are available, and so much cheaper – never mind all the costs implied when people have to scrounge around for the money to get the poisonous drugs.”

Abbotsford News, April 9, 2019

Gladys Avenue in Abbotsford is starting to look a little cleaner, as a group of local homeless people begin cleanup work in mornings and evenings.

It’s the pilot for a program intended to improve the overall relationship between the homeless and the surrounding community, called BEAP (Business Engagement Ambassador Program), which recently got a bit of funding from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

“On-the-street groundwork we started Feb. 1, and these guys are rocking it – seriously rocking it,” said Wendy Meszaros, BEAP co-ordinator. “It’s making a huge visual impact, making the place clean.”

Abbotsford News, March 31, 2019

“I think it was more of youth sharing their truth with people who needed to hear it, because they’re in the field. And if you’re in the field, I think you should have a better understanding of what’s going on with the people who are living in the experience versus what you’re taught by your education,” Pruden said.

Josh Raine, co-FLOHcilitator for Mission, said it’s also about hearing from a range of experiences and expertise – not just the typical top-down model of adults dictating to youth.

“The youth here have a lot of valuable knowledge that they can share and not enough people are open to listening to other people. People think they know everything,” Raine said.

“The moment you think you know everything, you’re closing opportunities … from everyone else around you that you shouldn’t be. And I think that this is a good example to show that you can learn from absolutely anyone.”

The summit largely consisted of workshops on topics including leadership, borderline personality disorder, self-destructive tendencies, harm reduction and opioid dialogue, gender fluidity and domestic abuse.

“Best part about today was seeing all the youth be vulnerable and happy to be vulnerable and celebrating the things that once was hard for them,” Pruden said, adding that embracing vulnerability was a major theme of the event.

Abbotsford News, March 31, 2019

“We did a brainstorming exercise for almost the entire meeting about what we could do,” Bonella says.

At first, suggestions were a bit more grandiose, from cleaning her yard to repaving her driveway.

“We were like, ‘That might really freak her out if we show up at her yard with a bunch of tools,’” Bonella says.

Eventually, the membership landed on something more modest: Two members approached Allen’s home with a conciliatory plan for Allen, and listened to her story. After that introduction, the DWS members invited Allen to speak at the next DWS meeting, an offer she declined at first.

“Then I thought about it,” Allen says. “I thought, all of a sudden, as I was walking down the driveway, ‘I can’t. I can’t deal with this problem anymore. It’s killing me and my family.’ I needed to find a solution because I am a solution-based person.”

When she agreed to speak at the DWS meeting, Allen says she thought there would be 10 people present. Instead, it was about 10 times that, all strangers to her.

“When she came to that meeting, it was, first of all, so much courage that she did that. I think there were 100 drug users in that meeting, and she came in and she got up in front of all of them,” Bonella says. “It was incredible … You could hear a pin drop.”

Abbotsford News, March 29, 2019

Doug Smith, harm reduction co-ordinator with Drug War Survivors, says he feels the success in Abbotsford is through awareness.

“We’re pushing that lesson of ‘don’t use alone, don’t use alone, be cautious.’ The warnings are finally being listened to and people are living, now,” Smith said.

“The dope that’s out here is way stronger than it was last year, but we’re surviving better because we’re smarter.”

Abbotsford News, February 7, 2019

When Marcie Pruden applied for funding last year to hold a youth mental health summit in Abbotsford that would be led by young people, she wanted to show service providers what youth could do on their own.

As the new regional facilitator for FLOH (Foster System, Life Promotion, Opioid Dialogue, and Harm Reduction/Homelessness), a youth-led program started by the non-profit Matsqui Abbotsford IMPACT Society in 2018, Pruden saw the Balancing Our Minds summit as a way to meet the organization’s goal of a major project that FLOH groups in Abbotsford, Coquitlam, Chilliwack and Mission could host together.

The catch? The application to the Canucks for Kids Fund and BC Children’s Hospital required FLOH to have a conference plan in place before applying for funding.

With just a week and a half before the deadline, Pruden, 18, and her fellow FLOH facilitators managed to find a venue, they confirmed 15 youth to speak on issues like domestic violence, mental health, homelessness and addictions, then they organized buses, and they also secured commitments from 12 Fraser Valley schools that students could attend.

The Tyee, January 31, 2019

City spokesperson Alex Mitchell said the city is “engaged in preliminary conversations with community service providers and Fraser Health, looking at ways to develop a community ambassador program that would bring together people with lived experience to volunteer in the community to support our homeless in Abbotsford outreach activities.”

The proposed program, titled Business Engagement Ambassador Project (BEAP), would include members of Drug War Survivors (DWS) like Grace Unruh. One of the proposed ambassadors, Unruh said the intention is to take the initiative in building up a relationship with local businesses by helping to clean up and create a buffer between businesses and homeless people.

“If a store owner has an issue with maybe an aggressive individual, rather than call 911 and they serve time, call us. Maybe we can intervene, or be kind of like a peacekeeper,” Unruh said, adding that with lived experience the ambassadors may be able to connect with that individual more easily and calm the situation down without escalating things.

Abbotsford News, November 30, 2018

Harvey Clause, a homeless advocate with Drug War Survivors, says he’s in favour of having some sort of a permanent camp for local homeless. In part one of this series, Clause noted there was security in numbers – not least of all from overdoses. And for the elderly, taking down one’s campsite every morning to haul it around all day can be exhausting.

If any location has served as a quasi-permanent location, it has been Gladys Avenue. There, a cycle persists: Campers set up, and then they’re cleared out, seemingly in perpetuity.

According to a BC Hydro document obtained through a freedom of information request, security and cleanups for the camps cost $60,000 per year – a cost of about $1.20 per household in Abbotsford.

Abbotsford News, December 29, 2018

In 2014, a group of 14 individuals, including seven homeless, proposed a plot on Valley Road for a transitional campground, but that was denied by city hall.

At Tuesday’s DWS meeting, numerous members spoke in favour of a tent city during a discussion on the election, saying it is too burdensome for homeless individuals, who are often seniors, to pack everything up and take it around with them all day.

But the idea of being allowed to permanently camp out didn’t have unanimous support from DWS members.

“It would have to be in a place where they have to be monitored. They have to be checked when they come in, they have to be checked when they leave. Drug paraphernalia, whatever, has to be removed when they come out,” said DWS member Mike Purchase.

Abbotsford News, October 19, 2018

Max Kerr began his summer this year with little more than the common perceptions of addictions.

But the 18-year-old, who graduated this year from Yale Secondary School in Abbotsford, said that perception has shifted monumentally after working for a non-profit revolving around addictions and homelessness.

“When I came to my first meeting here, I kind of just kept to myself, and I was really nervous. I didn’t entirely want to shake people’s hands because all the perceptions I had were: homeless people are grimy, they’re dirty. And anyone I told about this, they said ‘Well, be careful that they don’t try to manipulate you into giving them money or drugs or something,’” he said.

Abbotsford News, August 31, 2018

The Abbotsford Impact Society’s FLOH (Foster System, Life Promotion, Opioid Dialogue, Harm reduction/Homelessness) program, created and organized by 10 Fraser Valley youths, began talking about holding a conference late last year and successfully applied for funding for the event.

The event was sold out by early this week, but another 30 spaces were added to the event.

“The conference is actually quite spectacular because the funding opportunity was sent to me about a week and a half before the deadline was up, so in that week and a half our youth planned an entire conference, confirmed at least 7 different schools to let their students come, and confirmed almost every speaker at the conference (about 25 people),” said Marcie Pruden, regional youth FLOHcilitator in an email.

“If that doesn’t prove the amount of capacity youth have when they’re given opportunities to thrive, I don’t know what will.”

Abbotsford News, August 31, 2018

“We had a pretty good group of people, here, today. Everyone pitched in and helped. That shows a community and that shows a sense of helping.”

That sense of community, Clause said, is one of the important factors for the safety of the homeless population in Abbotsford. Prior to the former tent city being formed, Clause had lived in Grant Park, where the event was held. Now, since the tent city has disbanded with bylaws that no longer allow homeless to keep tents in parks during daytime, he said that community is missing.

“We had a little bit of a community, you know? We had a group of people that were together. We were just starting to be a community. Then they broke us up, basically, and sent us out to be out of sight, out of mind,” Clause said.

Abbotsford News, August 31, 2018

The Drug War Survivors (DWS) has already been working on community cleanups, especially in the downtown area, and Friday’s cleanup will provide that ongoing project with some supplies from Fraser Health, such as tongs. DWS will be able to keep those supplies, helping to cement the project into place.

DWS member Kiah Ashley said funding from Fraser Health has allowed DWS programs, such as the cleanup, to flourish.

“If we can ride on that and continue to meet their goals and show them what we’re capable of, then hopefully they will acknowledge that, continue to support that and increase the support across the board,” Ashley said.

Abbotsford News, August 30, 2018

As we all know the opioid crisis has affected hundreds and hundreds of British Columbians. And we continue to hear stories of overdose deaths and lost loved ones. And now a group of youth in Abbotsford has created a series of workshops for the community to explore just how everyone is affected by this crisis.

Andrew Millage is a youth advocate living in Abbotsford and he is one of the co-facilitators of the new community support session. It’s called PIPS and it stands for “Prevention is Power Sharing” and they start tomorrow at 3:00 in the afternoon at Impact Youth & Family Substance Use Services in Abbotsford.

CBC Radio, On the Coast, July 28, 2017

Gross says youth in his program came up with the idea [of Naloxone Ninjas] themselves, because they’d either experienced an OD, or knew someone who had. Many had never even heard of Naloxone.

“So when we introduced it to them, actually the stories started coming out from them about their experiences with overdose. We’d known some of these kids for two years and we had never heard these stories from them.”

Gross says the program opened a door that let youth be honest about what was going on in their lives, and offered them an avenue to do something positive.

He says many brought friends in because they felt it would be a safe and pressure-free environment.

“A lot of people will not come to something if they feel you’re going to be pressured into making some changes that you feel you’re not ready to make.”

CKNW AM 980, August 11, 2016

Gross says the idea came from youth themselves. He says they wanted to help friends who were using, and wanted to create an environment where they wouldn’t feel judged or pressured.

“Because a lot of times if there’s any whiff of that, those youth aren’t going to come out just because they’re going to feel bad. And they don’t want to feel bad. And that’s a lot of the reason why they’re using these drugs in the first place.”

Gross says the results were surprising. Not only did it engage the youth in a frank discussion about drug use and safety, but it also led to behavioral changes when the kids learned they needed to be sober in order to use a kit to save their friends.

“Instead of telling youth don’t use these drugs, when we give them something to do with their friends to make sure that they’re there so that everyone is safe, we’ve actually found that some of the youth who have been trained to use naloxone have markedly reduced, or stopped using opiates… because they want to be around and available to administer the naloxone if it’s needed.”

CKNW AM 980, June 9, 2016

Even before the province declared the health emergency, Brian Gross, project director for Valley Youth Partnership for Engagement and Respect (VYPER) said youth in his program had talked about coming up with ways to keep kids safer.

“A lot of these youth are dealing with friends who are using fentanyl on a daily basis and feel like, ‘What can I do?’” Gross said.  

Many didn’t know what naloxone was, he said, and only after they first learned about it, did they start sharing personal stories about times they really could have used it.

To those who might argue providing naloxone to young people could encourage drug abuse, Gross said the issue is complex.

“It would be wonderful if people just didn’t do this and this didn’t happen, but it’s happening,” he said. “The fact is that we have a public health crisis on our hands, and there have been a lot of lives saved as a result of naloxone in the Fraser Health region.”

Burnaby Now, June 1, 2016

Police and health experts advise drug users to have someone with them in case they get into trouble with potentially fentanyl-laced substances. Some parents let their kids drink alcohol at home under their watch but what if it was opioids instead? Should parents supervise their kids at home while getting high?

Family and Youth Drug counsellor Brian Gross with Impact realizes there are some families that go that route because they believe it’s safer.

He doesn’t recommend it but he knows making decisions as a parent is tough and so he is always supportive.

“It’s natural I think that some parents decide to do other things than disallow their kids to use drugs at all at home. They may also have concerns that they might be able to keep their kids safer when the kids are at home, but we really don’t want to tell parents what to do any more than we want to tell youth what to do.”

He believes there is significant harm either way.

He does suggest parents along with their kids get a naloxone take home kit which acts as an antidote for hard drugs like heroine and fentanyl in hopes it’ll save lives.

“Parents and youth and any drug user who has used opiates should look into getting narcan. We think parents possibly getting training with their kids—not only does it provide them another tool to keep safe but it also provides opportunity for more communication around the risks and how to stay safer,” adds Gross.

Vancouver News 1130, August 10, 2015

Brian Gross with Impact Youth and Family Substance Use Services says “Oxy,” as many call it, is growing in popularity among teens. It’s a prescription pain killer which can make it easier to access.

“That drug may be what they have available to them whereas they might not have other drugs available. The other thing is that some kids are risk takers,” says Gross, who expects things to get worse.

He believes prevention shouldn’t just be about talking to your kids about abstinence, but should include the reality of how unsafe it can be when you don’t know what’s really in pills.

“I mean, I think we should assume that this is going to be an ongoing and possibly growing problem and therefore we need to talk about it with youth.”

He notes people tend to hype up long weekends which can often lead to teens taking more risks.

Vancouver News 1130, August 2, 2015

Brian Gross, executive director of Impact Youth Substance Use Services in Abbotsford, said that in a 2009 “developmental assets” study conducted by the school district, 10 per cent of youth indicated they had sniffed or inhaled substances to get high once or more in the previous 30 days.

Eight per cent of Mission youth indicated the same thing.

Gross said this was the only form of drug use that was higher in Abbotsford than in Mission.

Abbotsford News, December 16, 2014

Abbotsford Youth Health Centre was recently nominated for the Premier’s Award of Excellence. Leaders from this program, which operates in part out of Bakerview Centre for Learning, were on hand to share their successful story and the award with the district, which is one of the AYHC’s core partners.

Board Chair Cindy Schafer and Eric Van Egmond, Community Service Manager for the Ministry of Children and Family Development are shown with the award. Also on hand were Brian Gross of Impact Youth Substance Use Services and Dr. Elizabeth Watt of the Division of Family Practice and primary physician with the AYHC.

Board News, Abbotsford School District, November 18, 2014

“This endeavour is a wonderful example of the community coming together to create a youth health centre that reaches our most vulnerable youth,” says Eric Van Egmond, community services manager with the Ministry of Children and Family Development Abbotsford (FDA). “No one organization could have developed this centre on their own; it took a community of committed and dedicated organizations and individuals.”

The Abbotsford Youth Health Centre’s winning nomination was based on the formation of new partnerships and an innovative approach to serve a high-risk population. 

The Premier’s Award recognizes exceptional efforts and dedication to the BC Public Service. The Centre is operated by a coalition of agencies, including the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the Abbotsford Division of Family Practice, Abbotsford Community Services and Impact Youth Substance Use Services, and has received support from Fraser Health and the Abbotsford School district.

Fraser Health Newsroom, September 30, 2014

Brian Gross, the Executive Director of Impact Youth Substance Use Services, spoke of how clients are afraid they are going to get a lecture and not the support and help needed to recover their lives. He raised the important point that a spectrum of services is needed because there is no one way that works.

Abbotsford Today, January 29, 2013

Brian Gross, executive director of Impact youth substance use services, told the harm reduction panel that drug users need access to a spectrum of services and both harm reduction and abstinence programs should be available to addicts.

Montreal Gazette, January 23, 2013

The Abbotsford Youth Health Centre (AYHC) has received a $10,000 grant from the Oak Tree Foundation, enabling it to keeps its doors open through the fall.

The AYHC currently operates out of Abbotsford Regional Hospital, but funding has been a struggle, said Brian Gross, an AYHC co-chair and executive director at Impact Youth Substance Abuse Services.

“We’re still in urgent need of funds. We’re running on nearly 60 per cent volunteer time, which isn’t sustainable over the long term,” he said.

Abby News, July 24, 2012

As the speakers took their turns, people in the audience wept over the personal anecdotes of community organizer Brian Gross, and they booed David Berner of the Drug Prevention Network for speaking against the practice of needle distribution and exchange. Heads cocked sideways over the complex legal arguments put forth by Pivot Legal Society lawyer Scott Bernstein, in which he argued that the harm reduction bylaw is illegal for jurisdictional reasons and that it likely violates human rights to health. Dan Small spoke on behalf of the Portland Hotel Society, urging council to repeal the bylaw.

The Tyee, June 4, 2012

At Monday’s Council meeting the issue of harm reduction strategies took centre stage, bringing out strong feelings on both sides of the issue.

Currently the City has a bylaw banning harm reduction strategies like needle exchanges.

Brian Gross from the Supporting Wellness and Reducing Harm Committee gave an impassioned speech.

“Harm reduction acknowledges that rubbing someone’s nose in their weaknesses does not make them stronger.  Harm reduction introduces positive change into people’s lives.  Every time an injection drug user unwraps a clean rig, they have an opportunity to think about why.”

Abbotsford Times, May 29, 2012

In Abbotsford’s student-aged population there has been nearly a death a month from suicide and lethal reactions to the use of drugs over the last year, the advisory committee reports.

Abbotsford’s hospital admission rates for drug overdose are considerably higher than both Fraser Health and provincial rates – higher than either the cities of Surrey or New Westminster.

The good news is that Abbotsford has one of the oldest and most active mental health and substance use advisory committees in the Fraser Health region, comprised of professionals, clients and their families.

The committee now wants to hear from those who will be affected by the future direction to address and provide services for mental health and substance abuse issues.

Abbotsford Times, May 29, 2012

The issue of the social stigmatisation of drug users was compelling addressed at the meeting by Brian Gross, who spoke on behalf of the Supporting Wellness and Reducing Harm Committee (SWaRH), a group of community organisations that has been distributing thousands of clean drug needles every night in Abbotsford since 2005. Gross has previously said that the bylaw sends a cruel message that Abbotsford “would rather see addicts dead than within the city.” 

At the meeting, Gross gave a beautiful and moving speech drawing parallels between the social stigmatisation of drug users to that of queer youth. He exhorted City Council to step away from black and white notions of right and wrong and “into the grey,” and to recognise that one of the primary uses of harm reduction programs like needle exchanges is that it gives drug users, who are often faced with intense social alienation, tangible proof that people do care about them.

Pivot Legal Blog, May 29, 2012

The Supporting Wellness and Reducing Harm Committee (SWaRH) is a group of Abbotsford community organizations that to varying extents have been discreetly distributing needles since 2005.

Brian Gross, SWaRH chair, said the coalition will continue to better co-ordinate their harm reduction services to stem disease regardless of what Abbotsford council decides about the bylaw.

“Whether the bylaw is in place or not, Fraser Health has indicated there will be seed money to help with training and capacity building,” said Gross.

The group includes Abbotsford Community Services, BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, the Women’s Resource Society of the Fraser Valley, the 5 and 2 Ministries and Positive Living Fraser Valley Society.

The goal is to pursue harm reduction but also ensure the city’s most vulnerable populations feel cared about, valued and have a role to play in the community, added Gross.

“We need to stop looking [at drug users] through just one lens,” he said.

Abbotsford Times, May 25, 2012

A consortium of Abbotsford community groups, called the Supporting Wellness and Reducing Harm Committee, have been quietly distributing needles in Abbotsford shooting galleries since 2005.

“Is there a need? Absolutely,” said Brian Gross, board member and Abbotsford liaison for the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, a consortium member.

“They go out with thousands of needles at night and they come back with none.”

Gross said councillors shouldn’t set health policy and felt the bylaw sent a cruel message: “They would rather see addicts dead than within the city.”

The Province, May 18, 2012

Abbotsford’s zoning bylaw was amended in 2005 to prohibit any individual or organization — including Fraser Health, which oversees the provision of health services in the region — from establishing harm-reduction facilities like needle exchanges or injection sites in the area…

BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors board member Brian Gross is hopeful that city council will seriously re-evaluate how it deals with drug users and substance abuse.

“The bylaw … has sent the message that drug users don’t have value — that the city, in some ways, would rather have them dead than in the city boundaries,” he said.

Gross also said that, in spite of the bylaw, some harm reduction services are already being provided in Abbotsford. At meetings of his association, for example, clean needles are distributed to members. Gross said.

Vancouver Sun, May 7, 2012

The board of education approved at its public meeting on April 16 that the health centre be part of the “hub” at Bakerview, but three trustees were opposed… [because] they would not be comfortable supporting the project, unless parental permission was guaranteed.

AYHC development consultant Brian Gross said many of these youth are not comfortable approaching their parents with their health concerns.

Gross said the centre has seen almost 200 kids from the community, and 30 per cent of those have been from Bakerview… [so the] AYHC wanted to be more accessible to those students by offering services at the school one day a week.

Abbotsford News, April 26, 2012

In the space of a year, the Abbotsford Youth Health Centre is serving a growing number of young patients and the demand is on the rise, said Brian Gross, AYHC development consultant.

“We didn’t know exactly what the demand would be when we started, but a lot of youth need the services,” said Gross.

Now open two days a week, it’s already near capacity, said Gross.

In the first 62 days the AYHC was open, it served 122 young clients with an average of three visits per person, for a total of 319 appointments.

But the primary challenges are finding adequate, stable funding and a long-term facility, said Gross.

“There are a lot of possibilities for where we could end up, but that’s in the distant future and youth need the services now,” he said.

“We’d like a dedicated space, a one-stop shop where youth can access activities and other services and don’t feel stigmatized.”

Abbotsford Times, January 3, 2012

“It’s not often that the word ‘honour’ is associated with substance use and mental illness,” says Abbotsford Mental Health & Addiction Advisory Council (AMHAAC) Secretary and Treasurer Brian Gross, “but we’re doing what we can with our upcoming public forum to change that.”

“Honestly, when we put out a call for people who have lived or are living the journey of mental illness and substance use in our community, we didn’t know how many would feel safe enough to volunteer,” says Gross, “but I think it’s a testament both to the progress of society and the courage of individuals that we have already heard from so many who want to share their stories.”

Abbotsford Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Committee – Press Release, May 11, 2011

Brian Gross, of the Fraser Valley Positive Living Society, said the city’s policies may be playing a role in the rise of some infection rates. 

“Abbotsford’s harm reduction by-law not only keeps proven life-saving materials, such as clean needles, from those who need them, but it sends the message to drug users that their lives aren’t important,” said Gross.

“If you find those infected with HIV and treat them, it reduces the viral load in a person’s body to almost zero, making it unlikely they will transmit the virus. That means treatment is prevention,” said Gross.

“But there needs to be a way to make connections with high-risk populations and build relationships so we can help people understand the benefits of testing and treatment.” 

Some organizations in the city working with marginalized populations are being forced into the ethical dilemma of having to decide whether or not to distribute needles illegally, he added. 

Abbotsford Times, March 28, 2011

“We want the program to be a safe place for our youth to explore their relationship to drugs,” said Brian Gross, a development consultant with IMPACT youth addiction and prevention services who designed the initiative.

“A lot of kids don’t reach out to adults because they are afraid of what they will do or say,” Gross said.

“If you are sending them the message that drugs are bad and evil and horrible, and then they take drugs and it makes them feel better than they ever have before, they are probably not going to come talk to you about that.”

Abbotsford News, June 14, 2010

Brian Gross, program director at IMPACT, an addiction and counselling centre in Abbotsford for youth between the ages of 12 and 24, said children in the community under 12 are actively using ecstasy.

“Absolutely. There are some that age who are using ecstasy . . . most of it has meth in it and we do a great deal to make kids understand that.”

Children start taking drugs to be included, Gross said. “If there is a social group they want to belong to, and it involves drug use, they may be quite open to it. Kids want to belong,” he said.

Vancouver Sun, April 23, 2010 

I have concerns as a manger running a program that is supported by a major funder that has a harm reduction policy, this policy guides our practice. Where does this Bylaw leave us? What do I tell my young clients on methadone maintence that this public opinion of them is saying? I have to speak out for our clients who are trying hard, attending counselling regularly, working, and going to the local college that somehow this policy is not demeaning ofthem and their struggles.

Submission to City of Abbotsford, Sean Spear, May 16, 2005