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Peer-led mental health alternative to police still months away in Victoria

AVI will be hiring and deciding the structure of the pilot project over the next eight weeks

By Brishti Basu
October 7, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Peer-led mental health alternative to police still months away in Victoria

AVI will be hiring and deciding the structure of the pilot project over the next eight weeks

By Brishti Basu
Oct 7, 2022
Katrina Jensen, executive director, AVI (left), and Lacey Mesley, outreach worker, AVI. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily
Katrina Jensen, executive director, AVI (left), and Lacey Mesley, outreach worker, AVI. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Peer-led mental health alternative to police still months away in Victoria

AVI will be hiring and deciding the structure of the pilot project over the next eight weeks

By Brishti Basu
October 7, 2022
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Peer-led mental health alternative to police still months away in Victoria
Katrina Jensen, executive director, AVI (left), and Lacey Mesley, outreach worker, AVI. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily

The Peer Assisted Crisis Team (PACT) that will respond to some mental health calls instead of police in Victoria will be run by local non-profit AVI Health and Community Services Society, but is not yet ready to hit the streets. 

The one-year pilot project, spearheaded by the Canadian Mental Health Association and the City of Victoria, has been in the works since August 2021, and is still at least two months away from being ready.

AVI executive director Katrina Jensen told Capital Daily the organization will be spending the next eight weeks hiring five people to run the Victoria PACT and conducting community outreach to get feedback on how the team will operate.

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“We’re eager to get up and running as soon as we can,” Jensen said. “I know this is really needed in our community right now … but we have to set up the team to do that and that’s why they’re going to take a little bit of time.” 

Each team will be made up of one supervisor, one peer worker, and a mental health responder, who can either take care of the incident themselves or assess whether they need support from police or paramedics. In addition to the initial response, this team will also be equipped to connect people to ongoing systems of support, like referrals to primary care or housing advocacy. 

“We really want feedback from the community and people with lived experience,” said Lacey Mesley, one of the outreach workers at AVI who will be in charge of hiring and structuring the program. “It's about how this team [will] operate, what it should look like, how it should feel. We want some transparency and accountability there.”

This outreach will determine everything from what hours the team will operate in, to what vehicle they should use. 

PACT will not operate 24/7 this year. It has a budget of $400,000, while its sister project in New Westminster—launching around the same time—was allocated $350,000. 

A similar project has been running in the North Shore for almost a year and, according to CMHA’s CEO Jonny Morris, been vastly successful. The North PACT, he told Capital Daily, has answered over 400 calls and has only needed to get police involved in less than 10 cases.

“They've also been able to avoid [people] needing to go to the ER a significant number of times,” Morris told Capital Daily. “They're de-escalating by phone, de-escalating by texts, and actually going out to support people in crisis.”

With support from municipal and provincial governments as well as the Victoria Police department, Morris anticipates PACT being similarly successful in Victoria. 

The program has a third party evaluator who will be monitoring the number of times PACT will attend to people in crisis without involving other first responders, which will help them form a business case for whether to renew funding for the program in the long term. 

As with the North Shore program, PACT in Victoria will have its own dedicated phone line when it eventually launches. 

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