Sandi Quesnel (October 28)

BA MSW (candidate); Addiction Counselor, Ottawa Inner City Health Inc, University of Ottawa

Presenting on: Thursday October 28 

Session Title: Creating Soul Space: Supporting Street Mental Health Nurses and the Interdisciplinary Team on the Frontlines of COVID-19 and the Opiate Crisis 

Session Description: Clients who have been chronically homeless/street involved for years and live with severe mental illness and addictions often have had significantly negative encounters with police, the healthcare system, and have experienced multiples traumas. As a result, it can take a long time to build trust with these clients to help engage them in physical and mental health care. Peer support workers, people with lived experiences of mental health and addictions, help enable these relationships to happen between homeless clients and mental health nurses by engaging clients on the street, helping them get to appointments at the hospital, helping them meeting with different professionals, and access documentation. The level of illness, trauma and overdoses mental health nurses and peer workers witness on the streets on a regular basis can impact their own wellbeing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the inequities street mental health nurses have witnessed have only increased as COVID outbreaks have happened in shelters and overdoses and overdose deaths have risen dramatically. Witnessing these inequities and trauma put mental health nurses at increased risk of burnout, vicarious trauma and PTSD.  As a result, there has been an increased need to recognize the spiritual/emotional/psychological wellbeing needs of mental health nurses.

Soul Space came together as a collaboration between frontline workers, researchers and First United Church and   as a way to respond to the complex emotional/mental/spiritual needs of street mental health nurses and peer workers that understands the nature of their work. Soul space recognizes the deeply imbedded structural issues that contribute to burnout such as the intersectionality between feminism and care work, the effect of underfunded resources, and stigmatization of the work due to The War on Drugs. Soul space resists neocolonial ideas of compartmentalization in professional spaces and provides opportunities for workers to address their wellness through activities that cater to their mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs. These activities include grief support groups, meditation groups, pottery, sketchbook, forest therapy and retreats. This workshop intends to bring awareness to the work street mental health nurses and their colleagues do, the importance of lived experiences in the harm reduction community as well as focus on Soul Space and the unique interventions that have been designed to help prevent burnout and PTSD among mental health nurses and their colleagues working on the frontlines of homelessness.

Learning Objectives: 

  1. Describe the benefits of a collaborative care model of mental health nurses working with peer workers to engage with homeless clients living with mental health and significant addiction issues 
  2. Describe what Soul Space is, how it is working to address street nurses and peers mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing

Speaker Biography: Sandi is a frontline worker at Ottawa Inner City Health’s supervised consumption site specializing in harm reduction, outreach, case management, peer work and substance use counselling. She has recently completed her Masters of Social Work to become a therapist who specializes in substance use. Her undergrad is in Environmental Studies and she believes environmental and social justice must exist in tandem. Sandi works from a framework of cultural humility, and understands decolonization is not a metaphor and must be a continuous process. For Sandi, Soul Space is an opportunity for everyday actions of resistance to neo-colonialism and it’s structural systems that produce burnout. 

Kim Van Herk (co-presenter)

RN, MScN; Mental Health Team Lead, Ottawa Inner City Health Inc. 

Kim Van Herk, RN, MScN, is the Mental Health Team Lead at Ottawa Inner City Health Inc. Kim has over 13 years experience in providing frontline mental health care to homeless individuals living with significant concurrent disorders. She has a keen interest in helping address systemic barriers marginalized populations face in accessing appropriate mental health services and in reducing inequities in health. She is passionate about supporting frontline staff’s wellness and helping increase the awareness around vicarious trauma in staff working on the frontlines of homelessness.