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Thunder Bay's managed alcohol program improving quality of life, saving money: report

A Thunder Bay, Ont. program that helps homeless people with severe alcohol problems is both improving quality of life for participants, and reducing costs for emergency services, according to new research.

Participants were admitted to hospital less often, had fewer interactions with police

The Kwae Kii Win managed alcohol program is part of Shelter House in Thunder Bay, Ont. Participants, who are at high risk of harm due to severe alcohol problems, receive shelter, support, food and a glass of wine every 90 minutes throughout the day. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)
A new study indicates that a controversial social program in Thunder Bay, is working. Bernie Pauly is one of the researchers from the University of Victoria talks about Shelter House's managed alcohol program. 7:01

A Thunder Bay, Ont. program that helps homeless people with severe alcohol problems is both improving quality of life for participants, and reducing costs for emergency services, according to new research.  

Shelter House Thunder Bay opened its managed alcohol program in 2012. The program provides housing, food, supports and regular doses of alcohol to 15 participants with serious and chronic problems related to alcohol. 

Over the course of about a year, researchers with the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C., at the University of Victoria, tracked those participants, measuring outcomes like health, and quality of life. 

The findings were promising, said Bernie Pauly, a lead researcher on the study. 

"Overall people who were in the managed alcohol program were doing better than people we were following who were still homeless in the community and not in a program," she said.

The Thunder Bay program is one of about 12 managed alcohol programs across Canada, but there is still little research about their long-term impacts, says Bernie Pauly, an associate professor of nursing and scientist with the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. at the University of Victoria. (Helene Cyr)

Participants reported fewer harms related to alcohol, were able to hold onto housing, and had much higher quality of life, she said.  

Savings for emergency services

Interactions between participants, and emergency services were also "dramatically" reduced.

People in the managed alcohol program had 43 per cent fewer contacts with police, 70 per cent fewer detox admissions, 47 per cent fewer hospital admissions and spent 33 per cent less time in custody over the study period. 

"So that resulted in a cost savings of $1.09 to $1.21 for every dollar invested," in the program, said Pauly. 

"In this case we had the happy outcome of both improvements in health and quality of life, and saving costs," she said.

The pilot study of the Thunder Bay program is part of a larger national study of managed alcohol programs, that is still ongoing.