Homeless shelters where alcoholic drinks are given to street people with substance abuse issues are being considered in Edmonton.
Most shelters require clients to remain sober. However, that requirement can drive people outdoors, a dangerous proposition when temperatures drop in the middle of winter.
In a “wet” shelter, alcohol consumption can be monitored, which keeps clients off the streets, where they could commit crimes or end up in the hospital.
Edmonton city councillor Scott McKeen supports the idea.
“These are people who are in pain, they’re in psychological, mental crisis and pain,” he said. “So they drink to obliterate life.”
The idea of wet shelters is supported by agencies that work with homeless people in Edmonton.
The Annex Program at Seaton House in Toronto has been “wet” for more than a decade. Clients are given a drink every 90 minutes. The result is an 85 per cent reduction in the time that clients spend in jail and in the hospital.
Similar programs have been done before on a case-by-case basis in Edmonton.
Lorette Garrick, executive director with the George Spady Society, recalls how well it worked with one client.
“It did reduce the number of hospital admissions,” she said. “It improved his health significantly and over time, it reduced the amount that he was using.”
A wet shelter program could help homeless men like Rene Bigstone.
Bigstone says he experiences serious health complications if he goes two days without a drink.
“Can't get worse than it is. I'm serious,” he said. “Like I said, I get seizures when I don't have it.”
McKeen acknowledges the idea is controversial. But he argues it can help fix the problem.
“We're going to reduce the disorder, not add to it,” he said. “These guys aren't going to be in your back alley.They're going to be in this facility, so to me it's a win.”
In a statement, Edmonton Police said that it supports the idea in principle.
"EPS understands that a well-run shelter can benefit the users as well as the community," the statement reads.
"As long as the facility is properly managed, and as long as the needs of the individual are balanced with the needs of the community, a safe place can be provided for individuals struggling with alcohol addictions."
There is no guarantee that a wet shelter will go ahead in Edmonton.
The city is researching various options like how a program could be funded, how much alcohol is provided to clients and whether a program can be set up in an existing shelter