Meth use 'like a tidal wave' in Winnipeg, says head of family centre that changed hours due to drug

A Winnipeg centre intended to be a North End gathering place has cut back its operating hours because the director says she's concerned about safety due to clients who are addicted to meth.

Indigenous Family Centre reduced hours after office was ransacked in November

The mess left behind after a client with a meth addiction tore apart the office at the Indigenous Family Centre in November. (Michele Visser/Facebook)

A Winnipeg centre intended to be a North End gathering place has cut back its operating hours because the director says she's concerned about safety due to clients who are addicted to meth.

"[Crystal meth use is] rising exponentially. It's cheap and it's really available" said Michele Visser, executive director of the Indigenous Family Centre at 470 Selkirk Ave.

"You could say, 'Oh well, they're just in the North End, or it happens there, or whatever. But if you think your kid is going to get through high school without being offered crystal meth at a party, you are living in a dreamworld.

"And the amount of people using it is growing, and it's like a tidal wave that's just starting."

The centre serves as a resource centre for neighbourhood families and offers a meeting spot during the day followed by after-school care for children in the afternoon.​

But the daytime hours were cut back shortly before Christmas, Visser said, after a young woman with a meth addiction came in for a nap one day in November and ended up tearing apart the office when she was left alone by mistake.

"It really is counterintuitive. You feel like you should be there more, right? You feel like you should have something 24 hours to keep them safe. You feel like you should have some kind of safe room where they can go," Visser said.

"But again … we just don't have capacity for that or people for that or training for that, even."

Office 'completely ransacked' in November

Over the past few months, Visser said she and her staff have noticed more challenges involving young people addicted to meth at the centre.

In early November, a young woman between 18 and 25 came in, clearly exhausted and high on meth. Visser gave her a spot to nap in a quiet room and checked on her throughout the day, but had to leave suddenly that afternoon. In the confusion at the end of the day, the young woman was left alone in the centre after staff left.

When she realized what had happened, Visser called the Bear Clan Patrol to go check on the building, she said. They found the centre "completely ransacked."

"Everything was turned over. Not the heavy furniture, but doors open, boxes strewn around, papers everywhere," Visser said. She believes the woman was looking for money or something to sell to get her next hit of meth.

A few hours later, the woman overdosed on the drug at a youth centre in the area, and staff had to call 911, she said.

The woman survived the incident, but Visser said it made her and her team realize the seriousness of the problem.

"We just realized that it had been an ongoing and kind of a slow wave where it was increasing all the time," she said. "And then after that … we thought you know, it's not a safe environment."

The centre now opens at 9 a.m., when Visser comes in, instead of 8 a.m., because she said she didn't feel comfortable leaving her two full-time staff members alone to deal with any issues, she said. It also closes an hour earlier, at 2:30 p.m. instead of 3:30 p.m., so kids arriving after school won't be in danger or get scared by an adult under the influence.

The centre has also started running more planned activities throughout the afternoon and closing down the drop-in during programs, she added.

"It's like we can't just have a simple open-door policy anymore," she said.

'I don't know what to do'

So far, Visser said she doesn't see enough programming to support people with meth addictions — especially young people.

She praised Winnipeg projects like the proposed Bruce Oake Recovery Centre and organizations that connect young people with stable adults like Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

"I know that when you have a relationship, even with somebody who is heavily addicted … even when they're high or struggling you can sort of talk to them still and connect," she said.

"But it's like there's too many of them to know them all personally, and the amount of time it takes to get to know people who are that entrenched in addiction is also just hugely challenging.

"Getting help shouldn't be that much harder than getting drugs."