Closure of addiction treatment centers contributing to homelessness in Quebec, says group
At a time when the number of people experiencing homelessness is growing in Quebec, 16 addiction treatment centers have closed their doors in the last ten years, removing more than 800 beds for vulnerable populations in the province, according to the Coalition des organismes communautaires en dépendance.
Last week's municipal summit on homelessness highlighted cities' demands to the Quebec government to address this crisis.
Among the solutions, addiction treatment centers must be taken into account, argues Nicolas Bédard, spokesperson for the Coalition.
"We're not talking about treatment, we're not talking about putting them out of their misery. We're talking about finding them a bed to spend the night in, and then they're back on the street the next day, or they're going to use and then they're back on the street afterwards," he said, referring to shelters and supervised injection or inhalation centers.
According to Bédard, the closure of hundreds of beds in addiction treatment centers directly impacts Quebec's homelessness crisis.
"Most of the people who call us, who need help, are on the street," he said.
Since 2013, the closure of addiction centers has removed 830 beds for people on welfare, calculated Bédard, who is also a center director.
"Yes, we have to find them rent, but before we find them rent, if they consume, they won't be able to pay it, and we'll be back to where we were [at the start]," he explained.
But Bédard agrees the price of housing is also part of the problem.
"Rent costs are so high that residents who finish treatment can't afford to find housing," he said. "So they go back to the shelters, they start using again, it's a revolving wheel."
Today, addiction treatment centers are full, so a person who needs help might end up on a waiting list for several weeks, or even one or two months. Before the pandemic, people in need were taken care of within hours, Bédard explained.
"The centers are currently at full capacity. And that's really not good for addiction, because when someone calls into a center because they need help, in addiction, it's immediately clear that you have to help them. There's a direct link with the increase in overdoses."
"We're beginning to feel that there are operational deficits all over the network," he continued.
"These issues are caused by the centers' lack of funding, the fact that the sums granted to them are not indexed, and the increase in the salaries of center employees, which was put in place to keep these jobs attractive compared to those in the healthcare network," Bédard detailed.
"If funding is not increased, we believe that 50 per cent of existing centers will close within the next 18 months," he said.
MEETING WITH SOCIAL SERVICES MINISTER REQUESTED
Bédard says the Coalition hasn't met with Social Services Minister Lionel Carmant since 2021.
"During the pandemic, we met almost monthly, the associations with the addictions sector in Quebec City," he says, adding that he hopes to meet the minister soon.
Bédard maintains that it's "not in Mr. Carmant's plans" to increase funding to addiction treatment centers, or to expand the pool of graduates who could come to work in centers to fill the labour shortage.
"In 2021, we have increased funding for dependency housing from $6 million to $10 million annually, a 66 per cent increase in their funding," responded Minister Carmant's press secretary, Lambert Drainville, in writing.
"Meetings were held with COCD (Coalition des organismes communautaires en dépendance) and APOD (Association professionnelle des organismes en dépendance) over the summer to discuss the current situation, in addition to various exchanges with AQCID (Association québécoise des centers d'intervention en dépendance)."
"A meeting between the Minister and the associations is being planned for the next few weeks," Drainville also indicated, saying that he had received the request for a meeting on Sept. 19.
With regard to expanding the pool of graduates, "we are sensitive to their demands, but the regulatory requirements for RHD (resources d'hébergement en dépendance) workers are intended to ensure the safety of those accommodated and the quality of services offered," he wrote.
After The Canadian Press contacted Carmant's office, the Coalition received an e-mail from his office saying that a meeting would be scheduled for early October.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Sept. 23, 2023.
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