Out of justice and onto the street

Joe gets out of jail on Saturday afternoon on a conditional release that demands he be home by 9 p.m. But Joe doesn’t have a home. And Social Services is closed for the weekend.

Joe gets out of jail on Saturday afternoon on a conditional release that demands he be home by 9 p.m.

But Joe doesn’t have a home.

And Social Services is closed for the weekend.

“I know people this has happened to,” said Kevin Barr, who runs the White Bison addictions treatment program at the Whitehorse jail.

“So he has to wait and hide out until Monday when he can go to Social Services to try and find a room.

“And if he’s caught, he may end up back in jail for breaching his probation order.”

If Health and Social Services worked more closely with Justice, Joe might have been given a place to stay before being issued a probation order to be home by 9 p.m.

“There are different walls that come up through different departments,” said Barr.

Anyone in the justice system can’t access addictions programming offered through Health, said Justice spokesman Chris Ross.

The fissure between these departments is “something we’re working on,” he said.

Justice offers its own programming, including Barr’s White Bison program, one-on-one counselling and a substance-misuse program.

Alcoholics Anonymous volunteers also go to the jail once a week, said Ross.

But even if counselling is working for Justice clients, as soon as they’re released those services dry up.

So, if Joe has a good relationship with his counsellor, once he’s out of jail that person’s no longer available to him.

He’d be redirected to Health and Social Services, said Ross.

“It’s important to have ongoing outreach,” said Barr, who just met one of his former clients for coffee.

“He’s now released,” he said. “But I continue the one-on-one with individuals even after the program is over.”

Barr does it on his own time.

On average he spends between five and 10 hours a week talking and meeting with former clients who are no longer in the justice system.

Justice doesn’t pay him for this work.

“Sometimes, when I spread myself too thin, I can’t always accommodate a request,” said Barr.

“But even making a call to say, ‘How are you doing?” or having a chat on the street – it can be as simple as that.”

Barr knows how important random telephones call can be. “Because it helped me on my own journey,” he said.

“You don’t know it’s a random call, and it makes a connection that makes you feel welcome – it was a turning point for me on my journey.

“It’s these little things that keep us going when we don’t know the way.”

Barr would like to see all addictions programming offered to individuals regardless of whether or not they are in the justice system.

“I’ve had people who’ve heard about the White Bison program and want to take it, but can’t because they’re not in jail,” he said.

And Legal Aid has had clients who want to access alcohol and drug services, but can’t because they’re in the justice system.

The frontline workers need to be making more decisions, said Barr.

“These are the people who’ve been doing frontline work for so many years; they’re the ones dealing with the issues.

“But the people making the decisions are often not dealing with the situations, they’re just based on intellectual ideas.”

And there needs to be seamless funding for programs from one year to the next, he said. “So people who access the services get the consistency that’s necessary on their healing journey.”

Barr wants to see three-quarter housing in Whitehorse, where staff offer high-needs clients assisted living.

“It would make the transitions easier,” he said, mentioning guys, like Joe, released from jail onto the streets.

In the meantime, Barr will continue to meet with his former clients on his own time.

“I think more of us need to do that,” he said.

“Because you need that humanness to help you reconnect with your community.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at