The agency that funds health care in northeastern Ontario has begun to research the option of a “wet shelter” — a safe place to house people who can't stop drinking.

A senior officer with the North East Local Health Integration Network said there are up to 20 people in Sudbury who are chronically homeless and alcoholic.

Sherry Frizzell said those few people account for around 560 trips to the hospital emergency department each year — and a wet shelter might divert these people from the hospital, and prevent withdrawal.

“Typically what would happen is the individual purchases their own alcohol and it is provided to them ... sort of dispensed,” she said.

Other options being looked at include a sobering station and ways to provide more case workers for counselling.

Not eligible for shelter

A wet shelter would be a haven for some of the people Camille Lavoix sees through her employment.

The nurse, who works with hepatitis C patients in Sudbury, recently counselled a woman she thinks would be a prime candidate for a wet shelter.

Lavoix said the woman is homeless, has only weeks to live — and is not eligible for a shelter.

“She knows she's dying and she feels she has nothing to try to live for and if she's going to die, she's going to die drunk so she's not aware of it,” she said.

Frizzell said it's too early to say what action might be taken from her research, but noted: “we want them to be safe and to ensure they have the services that are appropriate, the right service and that is not sitting on a stretcher in [an emergency room hallway.]”