Every day, in the shadow of Parliament Hill, 30 homeless alcoholics are fed, housed and served drinks, each hour on the hour, between early morning and evening.
That this “managed alcohol” program run by Ottawa’s Inner City Health Inc. in the ByWard Market, is effective, is beyond dispute. For one thing, it has saved the local health-care system in the neighbourhood of $3.5 million by reducing or eliminating its clients’ frequent visits to hospital emergency rooms. For another, it has dramatically improved the quality of life for a group of people many would view as beyond hope.
It may seem counterintuitive to give addicts what is making them sick, but the Inner City Health program demonstrates it can help them live healthier, happier and less disruptive lives. Despite the fact that they are kept “buzzed” all day as a Citizen reporter put it, they are actually drinking less — maybe two-thirds less — than they would have been on the street. They can’t panhandle while on the program and must meet strict requirements, which they agree to. And the fact is many homeless alcoholics can’t quit. The best that can be done is to manage their addiction.
Many people think residential treatment is the only option for drug addicts. Muckle disagrees. “We have to change the assumptions and provide other kinds of help than we do.” For some, residential treatment programs will be entirely ineffective, she says, mainly because they don’t last long enough to make a real difference. A long, slow process that includes group therapy, harm reduction programs and some place to live, would have a better chance of succeeding.
One more thought about this and Staying Alive. The people give lip service to recovery, but all they talk about is how few people will recover, how damaged these people are and how the rest of us just don’t get it. How can they really advocate for recovery when they have so little hope for the people they work with?
I honestly don’t go looking for it. I rely on saved searches for keywords like substance abuse, drugs, alcohol, addiction, etc. This stuff just keeps coming.