FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – A local peer outreach team leader says Northern Health lied in a recent statement to media claiming peer services will continue in the city.

“Northern Health has stated there are peer programs. Show us where these programs are because to our knowledge there is none, and it’s been cancelled,’ said Terilynn Schultz.

After pulling funding from the team on November 28th, the health authority released a statement to local media stating that conversations were ongoing with peer leaders to continue services.

A public outcry took place once it was announced funding was being cut. Schultz believes NH’s statement was an attempt to save face.

“Northern Health is committed to harm reduction and overdose prevention in Fort St. John, and working to improve existing services, and implement additional and expanded services. Peers play an important role in Overdose Prevention work, and Northern Health will work with peers to ensure this continues,” said Northern Health in a statement to local media.

The group was formed in April, providing harm reduction services and tackling the stigma surrounding drug addiction. In October, NH informed the team that they were restructuring the funding model.

There were 30 peers working for the outreach teams that were fired, and more than 20 with lived experience were employed by the group, said Schultz.

The peers helped offer food, hygiene kits, first aid, naloxone kits, harm reduction supplies, info on detox and treatment, and warm clothing for those in need. Afterwards, they were paid a cash honorarium, which is what NH has cut.

Schultz and another leader, Neil Bramsleven, were in contact with the health authority to work on the community mobile harm reduction program. Schultz describes the program as a mobile safe injection site.

They were the only ones contacted to continue working for the health authority due to meeting specific criteria, including being clean from drugs and alcohol, said Schultz.

“NH Leadership is in contact and discussion with the peer outreach team leaders to continue peer outreach services in Fort St. John,” said Northern Health in a statement.

Schultz has pulled her application for the mobile program following the release of NH’s statement.

“There are no outreach programs right now, and they have no plans of getting outreach programs.”

Schultz showed Energeticcity an email with an NH worker, which confirms there are no outreach programs in the city.

“They did admit that it was untrue about peer outreach continuing. They said they don’t talk with the person who deals with the media.”

Peers were previously paid by NH to go on patrol, but Schultz says they will now run on a voluntary basis.

“We will accept donations from the community, and we will get harm reduction from mental health.”

At this point, Schultz says the team doesn’t want anything to do with the health authority.

“Peers are real. Peers are honest. We have one passion, and that’s to help people. We’re not even going to work with Northern Health anymore. We will volunteer our time.”

Anyone looking to donate to the team can contact Schultz at 250-329-8374.

Eryn Collins, Regional Manager, Public Affairs & Media Relations with NH, says the health authority is aware of the pushback and is working to get clarity on concerns being raised.

With files from Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News