Community Wellness Collaborative focused on intersectional solutions

·5 min read

The Community Wellness Collaborative presented its official terms of reference to Brandon City Council Tuesday, helping set tangible action in pursuit of its mandate and vision for the community.

The terms of reference enhance the Community Wellness Collaborative’s (CWC) ability to communicate how it is trying to help the community by fuelling intersectional collaborations between non-profits, said executive board member Matthew Grills.

“It was really important for us to develop a mission and vision that really speaks to all of the various challenges groups face that are present in the community, and acknowledge that everybody’s life is important, and that the work that we need to do to create a well and safe community downtown is varied and complex,” Grills said.

The document was a collaborative effort that brought together different schools of thought, including social work, sociology and medical practices.

The terms of reference is considered a “living document” that will evolve and change in the future based on who is involved with the CWC.

“It was a real success for us all to be able to put that together and try and support council,” Grills said.

The CWC terms of reference will help unify them as a group while serving as a platform to apply for funding. It also acts as an apparatus to form a strategy around how the group will engage with and help the community based on the mission and vision detailed.

A focus was placed on intersectionality during the development of the document.

“Intersectionality is key to understanding all sorts of different social problems — it can’t be ignored, especially when you’re looking at humans that have complex lives,” Grills said. “It’s very much an intentional part of the document.”

Intersectionality is the expression of someone’s socioeconomic status and the complexity of their lives, he said. The concept explores how someone’s life is lived because of who they are and how their experiences are affected by their physical characteristics or the social positions they occupy.

“It’s really trying to account for all those different things and talk about them, because they do have different weights and everyone experiences their own version of that differently,” Grills said. “It doesn’t happen in a vacuum — that’s the key part about intersectionality. These things act upon each other.”

Brandon sits on unceded Treaty 2 land and there’s a large Indigenous population in the area. Grills said it is estimated between 60 to 80 per cent of the population, depending on the service provider, self-identify as Indigenous.

This makes it pivotal to be aware of the cultural context of the spaces they operate in while working with clients living in precarious housing.

“If we’re going to be talking about this at all, we need to be understanding through an Indigenous context,” Grills said. “We need to be able to represent that in our policies and procedures.”

It was a conscious decision to include a focus on Indigeneity in the terms of reference because the CWC could see the harm created by structural racism. There was a critical need to address this racism and come up with solutions that can benefit vulnerable populations.

“We have to have truth and reconciliation,” Grills said.

The CWC is unique in Brandon because it is an external organization to all of the non-profits in town. Grills compared its operations to a Chamber of Commerce, explaining it is specifically tasked to help groups collaborate and take on big projects together that benefit the social good of the city.

The strength of the organization lies in being able to communicate with city council, the community and with membership to serve as a vehicle for collaborative community development.

Moving forward, the CWC will pull together to provide advice to council on a proposed sobering centre for the community.

Talks are currently underway about the delivery model for sobering services. Grills said the CWC is considering multiple perspectives about what the space could look like. The goal is to hopefully provide a couple of different models of operation to council for consideration and discussion in the near future.

“The first steps are going to solidify membership and to reach out and be clear around what we are doing and inviting people to the table,” Grills said. “We’re also going to be advising the council on the sobering centre and then really solidifying an apparatus about how we communicate to each other.”

The CWC will engage in the macro-development of community support as a uniting pillar for non-profits in the city. This group is primed and ready to respond to community needs, Grills said, and will evolve based on the challenges and opportunities that emerge in Brandon.

The organization can help tackle some of these existential problems in the city, including homelessness, COVID-19 and justice.

These are challenges faced by many cities around the world, Grills said, and they are trying to find space to collaborate and create an entity that can address these issues.

“They’re really excited about where this could go to. It’s a really wonderful opportunity for our community to address some of these issues that you know we’ve been trying to address unsuccessfully for the better part of, honestly, six decades.”

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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