A national magazine has put the spotlight on one of Vernon’s own.
Alison Houweling, a harm-reduction counsellor at the Cammy LaFleur Street Outreach Program, joins the ranks of doctors, health policy leaders and health information scientists — to name a few — in Best Health Magazine’s list recognizing Women of the Year.
“A global pandemic upended every aspect of our lives, the killing of George Floyd in the U.S. sparked a long-overdue racial reckoning within our own borders and an already-looming mental health crisis was amplified,” the magazine’s website reads.
“The good news: There are people who have shown, over and over again, they are willing to go the extra mile for the collective good.”
The list Best Health calls non-exhaustive but “hella impressive” points to some of these women, the “everyday heroes who put extraordinary effort into our best health.”
Houweling, who is also the manager of education and community programs with Turning Points Collaborative Society (TPCS), may be best known for her work through the clinic.
As a harm-reduction counsellor, Houweling has watched the “dangerous intersection of an opioid crisis and a global pandemic play out in real-time,” Best Health said.
In October, the province reported more than 1,200 fatal overdoses so far this calendar year — up from a total of 983 deaths in 2019.
“The distinction between our COVID-19 response and our opioid overdose crisis response is telling,” Houweling told Best Health. “With COVID-19… we all saw how quickly our social systems can be proactively changed to ensure the safety and security of our people. With the opioid crisis, people seem to be still scratching their heads.”
Houweling, who got into this line of work to help others, told the magazine 2020 has made people come together and think of ways to support people with substance-use disorders while staying safe.
“We participated in many Zoom meetings to coordinate services and ensure nobody was left behind,” she said.
TPCS colleague and communications manager Josh Winquist said Houweling may fly under the radar but her contributions to the Vernon community are “beyond measure.”
“What she does contributes to the health of this community in ways that most people will never realize,” he said. “A true unsung hero in the opioid crisis fight and a leader in the movement to destigmatize people who use drugs.
“We are lucky to have her in our community,” he said.