A downtown hub supporting people living with addiction and mental health issues is holding a fundraising Father’s Day draw to raise money for its ongoing efforts.
The Addiction and Mental Health Advocates began as a peer support group in October 2017, said founder Donna DeSimon.
“Then, we started our Compassion Crew where we were actually going out to places like Al’s Corner Pub when it was going, Jamestown, and we would go out,” said DeSimon. “A lot of us are nurses, so we would do First Aid because we saw so many wounds.”
Eventually, the group evolved from outreach to offering services through the Compassion Hub, which opened its most recent door at 133 Gore St. in February.
“We would bring them food and whatnot, and then we came up with the idea of going where they are, to meet them where they are, which is Gore Street,” said DeSimon.
Through the hub, people experiencing homelessness, living with addiction or mental health struggles can stop in, get a snack, get information and access any number of services made available at the safe space. It can also act as a warming or cooling centre when the weather goes to extremes.
“We fill out housing applications for them, we are a listening ear, we have treatment of wounds and do everything we can,” DeSimon said. “We help them to navigate the system, which is very frustrating for them, especially when many don’t have phones or internet.”
The Compassion Hub also offers a place to get harm reduction supplies for people who are using drugs. DeSimon said that is something some people still find controversial, but the group also keeps information on hand for people who are ready to seek treatment.
“All we try to tell people is we are trying to keep them safe. That’s all,” she said. “We are not here to save them; we are here to keep them alive until they can save themselves.”
Offering clean supplies for people who use drugs helps to reduce HIV and hepatitis C infections, among others.
DeSimon said she is closely watching what is going on in British Columbia, where carrying a small amount of hard drugs for personal use will soon be decriminalized. She would also like to see something done about the toxic supply of street drugs.
In 2020, Algoma Public Health reported more than 45 cases of opioid morbidity per 100,000 people.
“We need a safe supply. We are losing too many people. The numbers for Sault Ste. Marie per capita are horrendous,” she said.
Rent, hydro and the services the Compassion Hub provides all cost money.
“We have been having trouble raising money to keep going. I am looking for grants, but they are not easy to find, let me tell you,” said DeSimon.
The group is holding a draw for a Father’s Day basket to raise as much as they can to keep the effort going. The basket is filled with gift cards and other goodies valued at more than $1,000 total, including a portable barbecue that has been donated by local businesses and concerned citizens.
Tickets are available at the Compassion Hub or by contacting DeSimon through Facebook.