Fighting fire with fire: new Happy Valley-Goose Bay shelter will offer managed harm-reduction strategy
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ST. JOHN’S, NL – The Newfoundland and Labrador housing minister says a Happy Valley-Goose Bay detox center has been discussed among local leaders and authorities as a possible next step to tackle homelessness and alcoholism in the community.
But John Abbott says the focus is now on a proposed 70-bed shelter and small apartment complex where one of the available treatments may sound counterintuitive to many when it comes to tackling compulsive drinking: a managed alcohol program or MAP.
With the right controls and supports, Abbott said, a MAP could help many of those who would call on the shelter “so they don’t have to crawl to the corner store or the liquor store and grab and drink as much as you can on.” once.”
The idea is to allow residents to consume measured amounts of alcohol on site as part of a harm reduction strategy.
Several Canadian studies have heralded MAPs as a successful means of reducing health risks and other harms caused by runaway alcoholism among vulnerable populations, including Indigenous groups.
A small example is the Art Manual House in Toronto, which provides limited housing and support for those emerging from severe alcoholism and homelessness.
The St. John’s Status of Women’s Council launched a pilot MAP in 2019, which is now in its second year.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government’s estimated cost of alcohol-related harm was $318 million in 2017, the year the government released its first alcohol action plan. These included costs related to lost productivity, healthcare, criminal justice, and other direct costs.
Many Happy Valley residents remain skeptical that building the shelter, estimated to cost up to $40 million, will do whatever it takes to address the constant problem of transients from primarily Indigenous communities camping on trails in the city and often Wreak havoc in the city.
Some of them remain well into the winter, and some have died in the cold despite the availability of temporary shelter.
Politicians and lawyers from The Telegram admitted that the shelter is neither a short-term solution nor a long-term panacea to a complex problem compounded by intergenerational trauma among Indigenous people.
But Abbott said the proposed facility will address what is now a patchwork approach to homelessness in general, by bringing housing and support under one roof.
Many seeking shelter in the existing Housing Hub will be transferred to the Labrador Inn when capacity is reached.
“[The new facility]will contribute to a large part of the challenge that we see there for housing,” Abbott said. “At the same time, we recognize that there will be those who may not wish to make use of the shelter and we will ensure that we provide the emergency and other support as we are currently providing.”
Around the planned location on Hamilton River Road there is enough space to accommodate gardens and cultural and spiritual activities. Abbott said Labrador-Grenfell Health will play an important role in the facility’s success.
“Labrador-Grenfell Health have a range of services in their mental health and addiction program that they are currently offering and they will now be an integral part of the new housing and supportive home accommodation for individuals. So we’re going to have those services and access to those services on-site.”
The province wants to ensure operations are conducted at the local level, he said.
“It’s really a community-led initiative. We obviously provide support and of course provide financial dollars, but at the end of the day we will withdraw. A governance model is being finalized but it is indigenous led and we believe this will enable the long-term success we are all seeking.”
Peter Jackson reports on tribal affairs for The Telegram.