Montreal | A first liquor dispensary for the homeless

The first alcohol management program for the homeless opened in Montreal. An emergency solution that limits the consequences of deprivation while promoting the social reintegration of homeless people.

Posted at 12:00 p.m

Vincent Marcellin

Vincent Marcellin
The press

As a result of a collaboration between the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal and the Old Brewery Mission, the center officially opened at the end of April. After a wet shelter in Toronto and a pilot at the former Royal Victoria Hospital, this is Montreal’s first alcohol management program.

“We’ve waited a long time for this opening,” said Elaine Polflit, coordinator for vulnerable people at CIUSSS, during a site visit.

With a maximum capacity of 30 places, the residential home offers medical and psychosocial support to chronically alcohol-dependent homeless people. After a series of medical examinations, each newcomer is assigned an alcohol dose appropriate to their situation.

“The idea is to make it convenient for people to avoid withdrawal without promoting poisoning,” explained Émilie Fortier, director of emergency services at Old Brewery Mission.

“Stabilize Consumption”

Once the dosage has been determined, beers are served to users at regular intervals several times a day. Workers then measure their level of intoxication, adjusting recommended doses as needed.

Our goal is not to control consumption 100%. The person who knows his situation best is the user as such.

Émilie Fortier, Chief of Emergency Services at the Old Brewery Mission


Photo Alain Roberge, THE PRESS

Montreal’s first alcohol management program, established in the Old Brewery Mission building

According to her, the priority is to “stabilize” consumption within the walls of the center in order to avoid all problems related to drinking alcohol on the street. “The people we welcome here have never had a long-term adjustment to housing options,” she explained. These are people with concussions who fall, who go to the hospital multiple times without necessarily using all the appropriate services. »

The center therefore represents an interim solution for these people who are not necessarily ready to complete detox programs.

“Studies on this topic show that sometimes the addiction is so strong that asking them to deprive themselves is not feasible,” said Elaine Polfilt. “By welcoming them here, we know they haven’t wandered between the street and the emergency services,” added Émilie Fortier.

The wish of the stakeholders is that the users ultimately reduce their consumption. However, the lowering of dosages occurs very gradually, taking into account the individual course.


Photo Alain Roberge, THE PRESS

Dormitory for Wet Shelter Program beneficiaries.

A positive effect on the health of the homeless

According to Émilie Fortier, this support method is already bearing fruit. The director of emergency services at the Old Brewery Mission notes a decrease in the physical consequences of homeless people, but also profound changes in their relationship with alcohol consumption.

“Before, her day was motivated by the search for consumption. Consumption is calmed down here,” she explained.

A statement shared by Stéphane Lapointe, 49, who joined the program eight weeks ago.


Photo Alain Roberge, THE PRESS

Sylvain Lapointe in conversation with a nurse from the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal

I feel better because I have significantly reduced my alcohol consumption.

Stéphane Lapointe, program member for eight weeks

Though he admits to using drugs outside of the center, the program very quickly had positive effects on his mental health and eased the anxiety he used to suffer from.

It also allowed him to think about something other than his drinking problems: “I have goals and goals, but living on the street I didn’t care because I was drinking all the time. That’s where I start to come to my senses again. »

Mr. Lapointe acknowledges he can’t “quit with a bang” and hopes to continue down that path to find a job and overcome alcoholism, which he has battled for 15 years. “Fifteen years lost,” he said.

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