South Riverdale CHC has long history of involving people who use drugs in our harm reduction programming design, delivery and evaluation, beginning 24 years ago when the COUNTERfit program was started by Raffi Balian. Raffi was an injection drug user and firmly believed that every client could be a potential co-worker. His advocacy for the rights of people who use drugs, and for their meaningful inclusion and leadership in harm reduction services has informed the Training & Apprenticeship Program.
SRCHC’s Harm Reduction Worker Training & Apprenticeship Program is a 16-week training program followed by a 6-month apprenticeship. The aim of the program is to offer low barrier, comprehensive training & support to People with Lived Experience (PWLE) to do paid Harm Reduction work in the community.
It was evident that there is a huge amount of interest among PWLE to do this kind of work. People want to work and to be involved in their communities, they just need the opportunity to do so.
In February 2023, after finishing our first cohort of training and hosting a graduation ceremony to celebrate our 15 graduates, we have been absolutely overjoyed. From bringing people together at the graduation ceremony, to people excelling in their apprenticeships, these past few months have been incredibly inspiring and uplifting for everyone involved.
When asked what they liked about the program, graduates said that it really all came back to the feeling of having a community that not only accepts, but also celebrates you. Our program is a place where people can feel safe, welcome, secure, and heard. It is a place where people come to share vulnerability with one another, somewhere they know they are accepted – places like these are rare for people who use drugs. Opportunities like these are absolutely necessary as a means to engage, connect with, and uplift people with lived experiences in the community. People need ways to meaningfully connect and engage with their communities to not just live, but thrive.
Our hope moving forward is to secure resources to sustain the program based on its incredibly positive impact – we are committed to making it possible to continue this life-changing program beyond the end of 2023!