December 13, 2021
To meet people where they’re at, addiction counsellor Kim Olsen provides walk-in hours on Wednesdays at the Hanna Learning Centre in the town’s Provincial Building. Photo supplied.
Story by Tracy Kennedy
For a person in the thick of addiction, hope sometimes comes in the form of a kind word and a juice box.
And though it may appear as a simple solution to a complex problem, a few moments of compassion and care may be the highlight of someone’s week when they drop in to Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) addiction and mental health walk-in clinic in Hanna.
For four hours every Wednesday at the Hanna Learning Centre, AHS addiction counsellor Kim Olsen speaks with vulnerable clients who are facing a range of challenges including addiction, housing insecurity, financial issues and/or mental health challenges. While there is an individualized approach to each client’s treatment, she believes the most important thing is to meet people where they’re at in life.
“Not everybody is ready to enter into recovery at this time on their journey, but it doesn't mean that they won't ever,” says Olsen. “So it’s important to restore some of their faith and their dignity, and to build that connection. The hope is that, over time, they’ll consider making some changes.”
The once-a-week service supplements the supports already taking place at the Addiction and Mental Health Clinic at the Hanna Health Centre Monday to Friday.
The walk-in began in March of this year to help clients who have trouble keeping appointments, or who shy away from going to the hospital or main clinic. It was established offsite at the Hanna Learning Centre as members of the vulnerable population are already comfortable going there for a range of social and employment services. Wednesday was chosen, because it’s the day the Hanna Food Bank provides groceries, and the day court is in session.
Olsen further broke down the barriers to accessing support by coordinating the donation of granola bars, snack-size puddings and juice boxes from a local church. Turning Point, a local harm-reduction agency, has since come on board to also provide assistance to clients if needed.
The walk-in has proven so successful that Drumheller and Wainwright addiction and mental health teams are launching their own similar programs in the New Year.
Donna Mirus, manager for addiction and mental health in AHS Central Zone’s rural east, says she’s proud of Olsen’s creative approach and adds she’s gone above and beyond to support clients, especially during the pandemic.
“I sat in on a session with the client’s consent, and I got a sense of the hope that’s offered when the world feels unsafe and lonely for our clientele,” says Mirus.
“He was quite depressed and said his substance use was up. Kim asked him to consider just one small thing that brings a smile to his face. He said he was going to treat himself to an ice cream cone — one small goal until next week’s session. It was remarkable. Kim said though the man doesn’t have a lot of hope, he returns each week, and she continues to plant the seed to bring hope or change.”
For her part, Olsen says much of the drop-in service is about safety and connection.
“It's checking in with a client about their worries, such as whether they have a place to stay. It’s about making sure they have access to clean supplies and food, and really focusing on keeping them safe. It gives them something to look forward to every week, somewhere where they can connect and feel supported,” says Olsen.
“Each client should know they are worthy of care, dignity and belonging.”
The addiction and mental health walk-in takes place Wednesdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hanna Learning Centre. The Hanna Addiction and Mental Health Clinic is located at the Hanna Health Centre, which can be reached for intake and appointment at 403-854-5276. For 24/7 assistance, call the Mental Health Helpline toll-free at 1-877-303-2642 or the Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322.