The impact and importance of peer researchers

OHTNNX Conference Report

Speaking at the Northern Exposures conference in Dryden, in November, 2015, Jolene Banning describes why the peer program at Elevate NOW is so important; Jasmine Cotnam shares her thoughts on the need to involve clients in meaningful ways within agencies; Jenn Carlson explains how peers have such an impact on programming; Will Lacey talks about why being a peer is the “best job in the world.”


Jolene Banning

My name is Jolene Banning and I work for Elevate NWO. I am the HCV/IDU Community Developer.

We have a peer program, and the peer program is amazing because there are people that sort of know what it’s like, they’ve been there they’ve done that. They know what it’s like and how they want to be treated. And so we have the peer program we bring them in they go out with our our outreach workers, and a lot of times they’re the first contact that someone’s had to care. And they talk to them in a real human way. Because they understand, right, they’ve been there, they know what it’s like to have an addiction, they know what it’s like to struggle to feed your need, or whatever it is that has you out on the streets. So they make the connection for the person on the street to the person at Elevate—the outreach worker to say, “this guy’s cool you can talk to them you could trust them.”

Jasmine Cotnam

My name is Jasmine Cotnam, I’m a Systemic Advocacy Coordinator at People Advocating for Change through Empowerment (PACE). I’m also a peer research assistant for the Ontario HIV Treatment Network, Women’s College Research Institute and McMaster University.

Well I think. you know, living in northwestern Ontario, I think the way that racism is not being directly addressed, as well as people living with addiction or any kind of condition that just seems to be a very big “us and them” in the community. And I think that there should be a lot more programming, not just within like our agency but to be able to take that in all community services or human service agencies and involve the people that they are actually serving, not just on a board or having them participate in a fundraising event, but to actually have them meaningfully give back to their—well if they choose and want—in their own community. One to eliminate the stigma, and two to help support a person move forward in that in their own life.

Jenn Carlson and Will Lacy

I’m Jen Carlson I’m a public health nurse. I work in a Sexual Health/Harm Reduction program at the Northwestern Health Unit, and I’m located in Kenora. I also am part of the Kenora Substance
Abuse Mental Health Task Force, and some various other community coalitions regarding housing and things that
address the social determinants of health.

My name is Will Lacey, and I’m a peer out outreach worker for Northwestern Health Unit in the Kenora area. I work one-on-one with addicts on street-level, referring to harm reduction agencies and providing harm reduction supplies to local addicts in our area.

[Jen Carlson] In my perspective peer outreach workers are
nothing short of amazing really. The impact that they have on the programming, on all levels, whether that’s program community themselves, has such effective change in how we roll out our harm reduction programs. And not only that, so in terms of like gathering information for us to better educate our clients or members regarding safer drug use and what’s circulating in the community and how to be proactive with that, having the peers work with us to build those relationships with clients says that’s that’s the key to a successful program is being able to connect with these people on a human level and really meet them where they’re at and get to know them. And the peers have done wonders to get us in those situations where we we can both feel comfortable in the same space and provide those services.

[Will Lacey] It’s actually huge because knowing the impact that peer had on me and on my journey, I guess, knowing that i can have that impact on just maybe even one other person is big. And it helps me stay clean too, it gives me like a sense of purpose you know, and even for my family like to feel some pride in what I do now and to make something good out of something as horrible as addiction, as my addiction was, and to get something good out of that and do something good with all those not necessarily good experiences, it’s just amazing, and I think I’ve the best job in the world actually, to be honest.