DAWSON CREEK, B.C. — SNOW House’s grand opening went off without a hitch on Overdose Awareness Day on August 31st, says peer lead Lyric Parnham.
The grand opening had about 25 people show up, Parnham says.
Snow, which stands for ‘Society for Narcotic and Opioid Wellness,’ hosted the well-attended event.
“There were some tears of happiness, and there was some tears of sadness because we had lost six peers in the time that we were closed,” Parnham said.
He says a toxic drug supply had arrived in the area.
“We had lost some folks in Fort St. John as well, just before Overdose Awareness Day,” Parnham said.
“There was six overdoses, and I think three of those individuals did not make it.”
He says this emphasizes the importance of Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS).
Grand Opening a success
Parnham says the large and supportive turnout was nice—he was expecting opposition.
“I was totally expecting protestors to be stopping us open because I was getting threats on my email and messenger threads.”
Dawson Creek residents have warned Parnham that they would protest, saying the group has “made their city unsafe,” he said.
Parnham explained that OPS are federally mandated and needed in the province and the community. SNOW House, which is a peer support facility and not an OPS
He hopes to get the MLAs “on board” to pass the zoning bylaws to open an OPS.
Rebuilding after tragedy
Parnham says the house is still “a work in progress.”
“[It] isn’t what it used to be,” Parnham says, but they have a space again.
“It just gives us the opportunity to grow and develop into our community,” he said.
SNOW House’s previous location had an accidental electrical fire in June that closed the space.
“Thank goodness no one was there. It was when we were not open,” Parnham said. “So the only damage that was done was obviously to the space.”
But approximately a week after they closed because of the fire, he says, they lost a peer to an overdose. That was the real harm of the fire, and that was when he went into “panic mode.”
“I can’t say that what we do is the end all, be all, but I could say that if our place was open, that individual would’ve been able to get their supply tested to make sure it was okay,” he said.
“And they might still be here today, or they might have dropped in our space, and we would have been able to reverse it.”
This is happening in Dawson Creek, and the victims are its residents, Parnham says.
Parnham describes Dawson Creek’s attitude towards SNOW House as a “not in my backyard mentality,” but knows that does not reflect reality.
“They say that SNOW is to blame… [for the] drugs in the city,” he said. “And that’s not true. It’s always been here.”
Parnham knows it’s easy to pass the blame onto someone or something, but it isn’t the truth.
High hopes for city cooperation
After losing someone whom SNOW House may have helped and in the context of the prevailing public attitude, Parnham says the society has –and has had to– fight “very, very hard” to get another space up and running.
“We know how important and vital OPS and the services that we provide are to the community,” he said.
After the fire, Parnham jumped on an opportunity to rent a place on the “main drag.”
He acknowledges that that location may have been a mistake, but was made in the panicked race to reopen before another tragedy.
“All I could think of is that our local peers, our community, needed our services,” Parnham said.
He says the local landlord knew their plans for the space, and that everyone thought it was fine until it wasn’t.
“We didn’t even get to open, and they shut us down, and [the landlord] was harassed profusely by the community,” he said.
Parnham thought Dawson Creek was different.
“I thought Dawson Creek was a little bit more ahead of the game when it came to this kind of stuff, but really they’re not,” he said.
“They’re no further ahead than any other community that’s in B.C., especially in the north.”
Throughout the time SNOW was at their old location, Parnham says, they had done over 290 toxic overdose reversals in Dawson Creek.
“All they think is it’s a crack shack, and that’s all we do. They come in, and there’s hookers and blow and graffiti all over the walls… And that’s not what it is at all.”
What SNOW House does
Parnham says if residents want to see what’s actually going on, they could come and check out the space.
SNOW does not just offer OPS services. They also provide hot meals, a place to do laundry, a place to shower, wound care, a haircut program, a work program, and help accessing other services.
Parnham calls it a wellness centre for the time being.
“We also do drug checking so that folks can check their opiates and make sure they’re okay,” he explained.
Parnham explains that they are not a safe injection or smoking site until the city grants them a temporary use permit.
“We’re working with the city of Dawson [Creek] in hopes of getting that permit. Hopefully, in the next 21 days, we’re hopefully gonna have that,” he said.
“And if we can get it in the next 21 days, then 24 hours from that time, we can have that service open and running and being the first smoking and injection site here in the north.”
Parnham hopes to work with the community to provide some education and “show them that it’s not a scary thing.”
“What we do is needed in our community. It’s needed in every community.”
Next steps for SNOW
They have been trying to keep a good relationship with the city, he says, but it’s been hard.
“They’ll communicate with Northern Health, but they won’t communicate with us, or they’ll communicate with us very little,” Parnham said.
In April 2016, Dr. Perry Kendall, the province’s health officer, declared a state of emergency due to the rise in opioid-related overdose deaths.
“We’re six years into this pandemic. Six years and we are no farther ahead,” Parnham said.
“There’s been no conversations about bylaws. There’s been no conversation about zoning to put these OPS that are desperately needed. All I want is for Snow to be able to amplify the voice of the peers, to amplify that their lives matter.”
He adds that they haven’t been getting the funding they need either.
The group has been receiving some funding and grants, but that money has not been able to reach very far.
Finally, he wants to say that addiction is not a choice. SNOW House, and SNOW itself, are based on this conviction.
“We’re living human beings that are trying to survive, that are dealing with trauma that are dealing with who knows what you know and it’s not a choice and people saying, ‘oh, it’s a choice,'” Parnham said.
“It’s not a choice. No one chose this life. No one would ever choose this life.”