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THUNDER BAY -- An alcohol management program in the city is already seeing success after its first six months.
The program, named the Kwae Kii Win Centre by its residents – it means ‘turning point’ in Ojibwe -- is a two-year pilot project that houses men and women who are homeless with chronic alcohol use problems.
The residents drink in a supervised setting, which leads them to drink less and prevents withdrawal symptoms.
Shelter House Thunder Bay executive director Patty Hajdu said they are seeing positive results from the program.
“People are having less public intoxication arrests. We’re having people that are healthier, their wellness is improving,” she said Thursday morning at the official ribbon cutting ceremony for the George Street building.
“People are generally much happier as well because they have a safe place to sleep, regular nutrition and access to primary care.”
Not only does the program put a roof over the heads of people who would otherwise be on the street at risk of severe injury or even death, but it also benefits the community by freeing up resources like EMS, police and the emergency room.
“In fact, these people are at home. If they do get intoxicated in public, there’s a place they can go back to, so it’s not always this cycle through the system,” said Hajdu. “Hopefully, we’re making a dent in that.”
While the program has seen success, there is a learning curve and residents don’t come in and receive an instant fix to their problems.
Not only are people ill with their addictions, but many suffer from chronic conditions like diabetes, Hajdu said, adding it takes people time to stabilize and adapt.
“We do work with people progressively so that they start to trust us and they trust our team and then they begin to trust each other,” she said. “They form a community.”
“Many people have been shunned from their own community and their own family and they have really no one. One of the outcomes the residents talk about is they really feel like there’s people around them that they can rely on and that care about them and that they care about as well,” said Hajdu.
The Kwae Kii Win Centre is just one of five similar programs in the country and it was modeled after a program in Toronto that former Shelter House executive director Cal Rankin visited and researched.
The building the program is housed in was dedicated in Rankin’s name Thursday for his vision for the program and the passion and energy he put into building it.
Hajdu said Rankin also showed bravery trying to implement the program as some see it as controversial.
“It takes bravery to sometimes to say the way we’re doing it now doesn’t work, we need to try a different way,” she said.
Rankin was surprised by the dedication and said he’s proud of the program.
“I feel great about the whole thing,” he said. “I hope the building will grow and the program will grow to serve more individuals and give them an even better living space.”
Many of the people in the program have been homeless for more than 10 years and Rankin said the city was failing to provide housing for the portion of the population with chronic alcohol issues and it was a while before anyone could come up with a real solution.
“I’m very proud of the fact we did this work and it’s on its way to success,” he said.
The Kwae Kii Win Centre has 13 residents, with the capacity for 15.
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