Joni worked with and supported folks living with HIV and hepatitis C at ASK Wellness before joining the PAN team and the Human Rights Education Project. Get to know Joni as part of the Meet the People at PAN series.
What first sparked your interest in the HIV or hepatitis C sector?
I was living in the DTES, starting to get my life on track, and I was accessing some health services when I was told I tested positive for hep C. At that time, I knew nothing of that other than it had always fallen in the same category as HIV and AIDS and that people die from having those diseases. At the age of 23, and getting clean for the first time I thought my life was over. For months I was terrified I was going to die a long, slow and painful death. I ended up getting a regular doctor who took another blood screen and he informed me that I was very “lucky” that I tested positive for the hep C antibodies but that I was negative for the virus. I was so confused; did I have it or did I not have it? He explained that at some point I had been exposed to the virus but that my body had fought it off on its own, and that I was part of the small percentage of people that this happened to.
While working at ASK Wellness I met with clients as they came in to access services. ASK follows a housing-first model, harm reduction and human justice. I completed intakes, worked with the housing team, landlords, the ministry of social development, referred clients to mental health, health navigation and recovery supports. I was trained in crisis intervention for overdose/poisoning and had to respond to such situations as they arose. I’ve completed mental health first aid and non-violent crisis intervention training. I’ve also been an active participant and peer mentor at the Family Tree Family Center and built a lot of valuable and long lasting relationships in the community.
So to get to the question, what sparked my interest in this sector is I don’t want another person to have to experience what I did due to a total lack of knowledge. I want to be in a position to inform people of the facts and not these myths or assumptions, something I think is very honorable. I hope to be able to bring this knowledge to people who may not know that there are treatments, cures, therapies available and even if they have a diagnosis it doesn’t mean they have a death sentence, they can live full, healthy lives…that is where my passion lays.
How do you hope your work will impact the real world?
I hope that I can share knowledge with people to be able to identify when they are being stigmatized and discriminated against, and find the confidence to advocate for themselves and/or seek out the appropriate resources and supports to assist them in breaking down those social barriers.
How will you work with communities on the Human Rights Education Project?
As the peer coordinator, I will be working alongside our educators to ensure we are including the voices of people with lived experiences, making sure there is space and respect for their input on community action teams (CATs), as well as applying my own lived experience and knowledge towards developing the context of this project.
If you had unlimited funds, which area of advocacy, research or programming would you invest in?
I would open and run two supportive housing programs for women;
1) a recovery house for women WITH their children, where mothers who are either pregnant or at risk of losing their children due to substance use/addiction. This would be an abstinence based program. However, if women were unable to remain free from substances, safety plans would be put into place so they have gateway to low-barrier housing so they don’t have to turn to the streets.
2) supportive housing for women who are coming out of corrections or have been struggling with Post Incarceration Syndrome and do not have the skills or tools to integrate back into society or live independently.
If you were able to choose, what is the natural talent or superpower your like to be gifted with and why?
I would choose a superpower, and I would choose the ability to draw the truth out of people- has anyone watched “Lucifer”? I don’t want to read peoples minds as that is a huge invasion of privacy, but to be able to draw the truth from them…. I feel it would be hugely beneficial considering the career path I have chosen.