A line of people walking along Campbell River's Seawall.

‘Walk With Me’ returns to Campbell River

‘Walk With Me’ returns to Campbell River on Wednesday, November 16, 2022. Participants will sit in a circle, while the organizers describe the project and explain the context of the stories they are about to hear. They will then proceed to the walk, listening to a 40-minute-long audio on a headset. (There are static options for people with mobility issues.) After the walk is over, everyone will return to Spirit Square and reflect upon what they heard. 

Image credit: Sharon Karsten, Project Director of Walk With Me – submitted Photo

“We exist in a public health emergency that has taken the lives of 30,000 Canadians and many of whom are my friends. I’ve dealt with friends dying for the last 10 years to the toxic drug poisoning crisis, and it’s conducive society community to do what it is able to do to prevent the loss of life and to prevent suffering needlessly,” explained Christopher Hauschild, a Research Administrative Coordinator with the project.

Project Director Sharon Karsten added, “We’re building relationships across divides, inviting people to think about the gravity of the crisis and about potential solutions in these small cities. I think really key in all of this work are notions of collective health and wellness and how can this be achieved in our small communities.  Certainly there’s a rise in housing prices, a rise in numbers of people experiencing homelessness in these small places. With those numbers rising comes a rise in community tensions around downtown cores, and around public space. All of these tensions tend to sit under the surface and boil away. They need to be addressed in some way through a dialogue, through civic engagement, through better understanding, through human connection. The work of this project  is to facilitate those understandings, those connections,  those relationships that we hope will lead to transformation.”

This is not the first time they came to Campbell River. There was a walk in the fall of 2021. 

“We try to do a walk once a month, but  over the summertime we weren’t able to do that. So we’re back in Campbell River now doing this walk with local stories,” said Karsten.   

The project began at the Comox Valley Art Gallery, in Courtenay, when she was the Director in 2019. They witnessed the opioid crisis among some of the people involved with the gallery, and people living close to it. 

“Art galleries along with libraries and other civic spaces often find themselves at the heart of these crises.  So we wanted to know what an art gallery could do to make change. We just approached our friends at AVI Health and Community Services.  We approached some of the leadership of Island Health and just asked what an art gallery could do to make change and from all of those conversations came this project.” 

People who had gone through toxic drug poisoning crisis, frontline workers and family members gathered in the first circle.

They have created a report, available on the ‘Walk With Me’ website, that includes recommendations on how to reduce the stigma attached to the crisis, and the systems in terms of emergency care, hospital care, et cetera.

“We’ve presented to Mayor and Council in the Comox Valley, multiple mayors and councils, we presented to the heads of Island Health. So this report is going out.  It’s a policy change report, but we’re also in active stigma reduction by working with Island Health Frontline staff teams. So we’re also taking this story to health sites throughout the island and inviting people to listen to these stories with us  with the purpose of reducing stigma in frontline medical care,” said Karsten.  

Christopher Hauschild, Research Administrative Coordinator with Walk With Me – submitted Photo

Hauschild describes himself as someone with ‘a lived experience of addiction, mental health issues and bouts of homelesness.’

“I hope to achieve a radical shift in policy change, provincially, federally surrounding the circumstances of the toxic drug poisoning crisis, and all the factors that compound it, like the housing crisis, food security, access to medical and social detox, access to rehab facilities, second stage universal access to psychological services,  all of the remedies in which are required to heal one’s self of addiction,” he said.  “It is my belief that those should all be subsidized and readily accessible. If I can achieve anything in that direction through ‘Walk With Me’ even a little bit, it is all very much worth it.”

They were originally invited to Campbell River by the Community Action Team, who had seen their work in the Comox Valley. 

“We also have a long standing partnership with AVI Health and Community Services and have worked with AVI in the Comox Valley and with AVI in Campbell River. So there was already a platform and relationship there. Then we were honoured to be continuously invited into the territory by a cultural leader, Shawn Decaire, and other cultural leaders who were  instrumental in enabling us to do this work in this territory,” said Karsten.

Campbell River’s next ‘Walk with Me’ takes place from 10:30 AM-12 PM, and 12:30-2 PM on November 16. Anyone wishing to participate is invited ito Spirit Square. 

Top photo credit: Participants at the 2021 ‘Walk With Me’ at Campbell River – courtesy Walk With Me

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