Montreal plans to open 'wet shelter' where homeless can drink in controlled space
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, March 7, 2018 2:48PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, March 7, 2018 6:49PM EST
Montreal is set to join other Canadian cities in offering a space where homeless people suffering from alcoholism can drink in a controlled environment.
The so-called "wet shelter" is part of a three-year, $7.8-million plan the city announced Wednesday to help its homeless population. There is also a goal of building about 950 social housing units designed to help people get off -- and stay off -- the street.
Serge Lareault, commissioner for the homeless, said the $7.8 million will be distributed to different community organizations that offer varying services to people who sleep outside.
The plan to build 950 housing units is an "objective" he said, and the budget still needs to be negotiated with other levels of government.
The city conducted a census in 2015 of people living on the street, Lareault explained, and discovered that about 500 people sleep outside every night, with the vast majority having an alcohol, drug or mental health problem.
Due to their diseases or other issues, "they told us they couldn't stay inside a shelter overnight," Lareault said. "They need a place adapted to their condition."
One of those places will be a centre where the homeless can drink in a controlled environment, he said, but added the city will announce details of the pilot project at a later date.
The concept of a "wet shelter," Lareault said, "is a resource that welcomes alcoholics without having a goal of stopping them from drinking. Rather, the goal is to control and reduce drinking so they can be functional and be elsewhere than in the street."
Other Canadian cities such as Ottawa and Toronto have similar resources.
Ottawa's Shepherds of Good Hope organization runs a wet shelter with what they call a "Managed Alcohol Program." People are given limited amounts of alcohol at certain times throughout the day during their stay at the 24-bed facility.
Rosannie Filato, the Montreal city executive committee member who is responsible for social development, said a study is being conducted with the provincial government to put in place a similar shelter by 2019.
It's unclear whether Montreal will have a wet day centre, or an overnight shelter with a certain number of beds.
"The goal is to see what the need is (first)," she said.
Mayor Valerie Plante said her strategy is focused around four themes, including helping homeless people integrate better in public spaces and the subway system as well as giving more resources to shelters.
She also wants to build more housing units for the homeless and raise awareness among the public and in the judicial system about the realities of people living on the street.
Plante said her plan is ambitious and its goal is to reach people across the city who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.