IMG_3159We’ve had an on-site harm reduction program since our new building opened in 2001.

It’s a safe haven for homeless men and women to sleep off the effects of their addictions. It keeps our clients off the streets and out of the public eye. And it protects them from being robbed or assaulted – a dreadful experience many know all too well.

Most importantly though, it gives them a place where they’ll be supervised – with ready access to medical services in case of overdose, seizure, or any other number drug and alcohol related emergencies.

Every day more than 400 severely intoxicated people come to us in need of compassion and care. Most arrive on their own volition. Some are quite literally dragged in by their friends. A handful are dropped off by Calgary Police, Transit Officers or EMS. With no other place to go, we’re often the last stop on a lengthy and painful journey.

It’s a sad reality. More than 60% of our clients wrestle with addiction. Day in and day out, we see the same faces going through the revolving door of our intox facility.

EyesOur counsellors do the best they can. They provide countless referrals to rehab clinics every year. But addiction is a wild beast. And it’s difficult to tame.

Truth is, most don’t even make it through the standard 90 day treatment program before they’re back on the streets, drinking and drugging themselves into a self-medicated haze.

There is a lot to be said for the old adage that a person has to want sobriety before they’re willing to accept help. But it’s not a simple switch that can just be flipped on or off.  Recovery usually takes a series of attempts and then a lifetime of commitment to realize.

And then there’s the many whose addiction is a mask for an underlying mental illness. Once you lift the veil, there’s no telling what kind of trauma and pain will rise to the surface.

So it’s not just a matter of getting sober, but rather directing people to the right programs that will put them on a track of wellness for the long term. And neither we, nor the healthcare system have the extensive resources to provide the level of intensive care these men and women need.

That’s why now more than ever, Calgary needs a multi-functional Recovery Centre. One that would act not just as a hub for detox and addictions rehab, but also for mental health evaluation and medically supported programming.

We need a place that can provide ongoing case management to the people who need it most.
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Right now, the only approach we have is a reactive one. If someone is under the influence, they wind up in the drunk tank or in our harm reduction program. But once they’re sober enough to leave, they wind up back on the streets, repeating the same vicious cycle.

They’re managing their lives the best way they know how. And until we’re willing to stand up as a city and demand a better way – that will continue to be the status-quo for our most marginalized citizens.