Montreal | A first alcohol distribution center for the homeless

The first homeless alcohol management program opened in Montreal. An emergency solution that limits the effects of withdrawal while promoting the social reintegration of homeless people.

The result of a collaboration between the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal and the Old Brewery Mission, the center has been officially open since the end of April. After a wet shelter in Toronto and a pilot project in the former Royal Victoria Hospital, this is the first alcohol management program in Montreal.

“We’ve been waiting for this opening for a long time,” said Elaine Polflit, coordinator in charge of vulnerable people at the CIUSSS, during a site visit.

With a maximum capacity of 30 places, the accommodation center offers medical and psychosocial support to homeless people suffering from chronic alcohol addiction. Following a series of medical evaluations, each newcomer is assigned an alcohol dosage appropriate to their situation.

“The idea is to make people comfortable, to avoid withdrawal without encouraging intoxication,” explained Émilie Fortier, director of emergency services at the Old Brewery Mission.

“Stabilize consumption”

Once their dosage has been established, users are served beers at regular intervals several times a day. Workers then measure their level of intoxication by adjusting the recommended doses as needed.

Our objective is not to control consumption 100%. The person who knows his situation best is the user as such.

Émilie Fortier, director of emergency services at the Old Brewery Mission

According to her, the priority is to “stabilize consumption” within the walls of the centre, in order to avoid all the problems linked to the consumption of alcohol in the street. “The people we welcome here have never had a long-term fit in accommodation resources,” she explained. These are people who have concussions, who fall, who go to the hospital several times without necessarily obtaining all the appropriate services. »

The center therefore constitutes a transitional solution for these people, who are not necessarily ready to follow detox programs.

“Studies on the issue show that sometimes the addiction is so strong that it is not viable to ask them to deprive themselves,” said Elaine Polfilt. “By welcoming them here, we know that they are not wandered between the street and the emergency services,” added Émilie Fortier.

The stakeholders’ wish is that users end up reducing their consumption. The lowering of the dosages is however very gradual, taking into account the course specific to each person.

A positive effect on the health of the homeless

According to Émilie Fortier, this support method is already bearing fruit. The director of emergency services at the Old Brewery Mission notes a drop in physical sequelae among homeless people, but also profound changes in their relationship to alcohol consumption.

“Before, their day was motivated by the search for consumption. Here, consumption is tranquilized, ”she explained.

A statement shared by Stéphane Lapointe, 49, who joined the program eight weeks ago.

I feel better about myself because I have significantly reduced my alcohol consumption.

Stéphane Lapointe, program member for eight weeks

Although he admits that he used drugs outside the centre, the program very quickly had positive effects on his mental health, alleviating the anxiety from which he previously suffered.

It also allowed him to think about something other than his alcohol problems: “I have goals and objectives, but when I lived on the streets, I didn’t care because I drank all the time. There, I begin to find my spirits. »

Acknowledging that he won’t be able to “quit with a bang,” Mr. Lapointe hopes to continue on this path to find a job and overcome the alcoholism he has been battling for 15 years. “Fifteen years lost,” he said.

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