Harm reduction agency Turning Point has pivoted to renew its focus on sexually transmitted blood-born infections and providing comprehensive support for clients.
Established in 1988, the non-profit agency was originally called Central Alberta AIDS Network in response to the AIDS crisis.
In recent years Turning Point took the lead during the opioid crisis, and ran the city’s overdose prevention site (OPS) for more than four years until Alberta Health Services took over the site on May 31. Some OPS Turning Point staff still work there, but they are now employed by AHS.
“A lot of people were under the mistaken impression we were just the OPS. A lot of people thought we were closing when the OPS was transitioning, but that was only one of our programs,” said Reed Charbonneau, Turning Point interim executive director.
Turning Point still has 14 full and part-time staff who work out of the non-profit agency’s downtown office, at 4611 50th Ave., to provide services and case management, along with 15 part-time Nightreach staff who search for people in need of assistance on streets and pathways at night.
As part of the agency’s focus, Turning Point recently started offering in-house sexually transmitted blood-born infections (STBBI) testing, in partnership with a local clinic, for people who have trouble accessing health care.
“It’s already making a huge difference to be able to just offer testing where we are. People really, really want that service so we’ve done our best to get the full testing in place,” Charbonneau said.
Also new this year is an outreach team that operates during the day in the downtown area to provide support to clients through funding from the federal Substance Use and Addiction Programs.
He said when people’s lives are in turmoil, it’s not easy for them to deal with all the details to access and co-ordinate detox, treatment and social services, as well as facing the stigma when accessing care. But Turning Point is available to assist.
“When you talk to people who have gone from chaos and social disorder to relative stability, you always hear about people helping along the way, and not everyone has any friends who can help them.”
Turning Point will continue its other programs including: the Women’s Program to provide harm reduction services and support for those who are pregnant or of child-bearing age; the Red Umbrella Program for sex workers; the Rural Outreach Program for harm reduction and health promotion; and the Overdose Prevention program to make naloxone available to reverse opiate overdoses and provide education.
On May 9, Turning Point celebrated 35 years as an organization by hosting a community barbecue.
Charbonneau said it was important to recognize everything the agency and staff have accomplished through the years.
He said occasionally people in recovery will reach out to Turning Point to say thank you, and during the birthday celebration a former client stopped by who also wanted to say he was sorry for the person he was back when he was really struggling with addiction.
“He knows that our work is really thankless and that people don’t always treat us well, even the people we are helping,” said Charbonneau, recalling the apologetic man who now works at a recovery centre in British Columbia.
“He wanted us to know the reason he was able to get where he is is because we were there consistently even when he was at his worst.”