Liberals extend a hand to the down and out

The Liberals are dusting off last year's Acutely Intoxicated Persons at Risk report. "We would build a shelter, detox and sobering centre downtown," said Mountainview candidate David Sloan on Tuesday.

The Liberals are dusting off last year’s Acutely Intoxicated Persons at Risk report.

“We would build a shelter, detox and sobering centre downtown,” said Mountainview candidate David Sloan on Tuesday.

This is one of 12 recommendations made by Dr. Bruce Beaton and Champagne and Aishihik Chief James Allen in their 32-page report, released in December 2010.

“It was well-written for a government report,” said Sloan. “It wasn’t buried in the usual technical bafflegab.”

The Acutely Intoxicated Persons at Risk report paints a well-researched, compassionate picture of what the Yukon could do to help its chronic, often homeless addicts.

It stresses the need to treat these individuals with “dignity in a nonjudgmental manner.”

Whitehorse has no shelter that accepts the acutely intoxicated, even the Salvation Army turns them away, said the report.

Having no shelter “is no longer adequate,” it said.

The Whitehorse General Hospital’s emergency department is the only facility offering physician services to the acutely intoxicated, day and night.

As a result, the hospital is overtaxed and facing a “staffing and physical resource crisis caring for the acutely intoxicated,” said the report.

One of every 20 patients who undergo severe withdrawal, known as DTs, die.

And there’s no one in the territory trained in addictions medicine, it said.

Citing Winnipeg’s model, the report recommended a combined detox and sobering centre with a medical director specializing in addictions medicine.

And the sobering centre should be welcoming, said the report.

And it should be downtown and accessible, it said.

It should not be “seen as a place for punishment, but instead as a place of safety and security in a time of need.”

After the report came out, last year, the Yukon Party decided to put a sobering centre at the new jail – exactly the opposite of what the report recommended.

But “the plan has several disadvantages from our point of view,” said the report.

“First and foremost, Whitehorse Correctional Centre is a jail.”

Building a secure assessment centre at the jail in Takhini “is not central,” added the report.

“Nor is it a part of either the social community or the treatment community.”

Premier Darrell Pasloski’s government has done nothing to protect society’s most vulnerable, said Sloan.

“And by creating a new drunk tank at the jail, his government has clearly missed the point.

“Throwing people into jail, or shuffling them to the emergency room, achieves nothing.

“This report points the way.”

The Liberals would prioritize treatment over punishment, said Copperbelt South Liberal candidate Colleen Wirth.

Building a shelter and sobering centre downtown would combine medical care with social support, and would include doctors, nurses, case workers, and mental-health support staff on site.

The acutely intoxicated are in a dangerous position, especially when the temperatures begin to plummet, she said.

“And right now we are not meeting their needs.”

At 40 below, it doesn’t take too long to perish, added Sloan.

The Liberals hope to team up with Kwanlin Dun to address addiction issues in Whitehorse.

Building the sobering centre would involve substantial capital costs and continued operations and maintenance costs, said Sloan.

But in the long run, it would still save taxpayers money, he said.

Right now, the strain Whitehorse’s acutely intoxicated are putting on the hospital, police and emergency services is immense, said Sloan.

“We are burning up time and resources at the hospital,” he said.

Instead, we should be willing to invest in some of society’s most vulnerable, he said.

Building a shelter and sobering centre downtown, as the report recommends, would allow for a continuum of care, said Sloan.

“Rather than having police throw people in the drunk tank, like they do now, we’d have an intervention team that would allow people to be medically assessed and monitored and assisted at a shelter.”

The criminal approach is clearly not working, so we need to try something else, he said.

“The question for us all is, are we willing to invest in vulnerable people in our society?

“We can talk about how good things are going.

“But there’s a significant portion of people in this territory who are not doing well.

“And we’ve ignored them long enough.”

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