The head of the Saskatoon Tribal Council says he won't take on the managed alcohol program offered at Lighthouse Supported Living Inc., after the province announced it plans to move some those services elsewhere.
"We're trying to get people off drugs and alcohol — that's the key — so I'd refuse that," STC Chief Mark Arcand said Monday in an interview with Saskatoon Morning host Leisha Grebinski.
The managed alcohol program provides people supported housing and a medically regulated dose of alcohol at set increments throughout the day.
Gene Makowsky, Saskatchewan's minister of social services, said Thursday in an interview with CKOM radio host John Gormley that the emergency shelter's services would move to STC's wellness centre from the Lighthouse.
The move comes after recent revelations that the head of the Lighthouse was using shelter funds for personal loans.
Makowsky also said the Lighthouse's independent living facility and stabilization unit — which were receiving operating funding from the ministry — will be moving out. The government said the transition will take time and that there is no fixed date.
A separate housing side of operations will remain with the Lighthouse, Makowsky said.
Managed alcohol program 'in limbo'
The managed alcohol program at the Lighthouse was offered in partnership with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service until recently, when SCIS removed itself due to the Lighthouse's leadership and staffing situation.
SCIS executive director Rita Field says the program, which has eight participants, is now "in limbo."
"There is, to my knowledge, no new intakes at all through the Lighthouse. And certainly we're not able to continue until things are settled," Field told CBC News on Monday.
The Lighthouse says it has requested written clarification from Makowsky about which services will be affected.
"Once we are clear on the services that will no longer be funded and the timelines for transition to other service providers, we will be in a better position to assess which other services the Lighthouse can continue to offer," co-managing director Jerome Hepfner wrote.
I don't believe in watching people take drugs. I've seen that through my mother and I believe it's not good for anybody. - Chief Mark Arcand, Saskatoon Tribal Council
"For now, we continue to help people in need in the community with the resources that we have."
Field says she hopes Arcand or other organizations are open to discussing a managed alcohol program because of its many benefits, including reducing a person's time spent in shelters, reducing their use of non-beverage alcohol (mouthwash, hand sanitizer, etc.), reducing risk of harm to violence on the streets, and giving people a support network.
"The people in the program know each other and they're often friends and they have a better quality of life and it's more contained and they know where to get support," Field said.
"Their health is stabilized and their substance use is cut back to the minimum to actually manage the addiction."
Importance of harm reduction
Arcand, who has been sober for more than two decades, says he opposes the idea of giving people alcohol or drugs to manage addiction, and preferring approaches such as detox programs.
"I don't believe in watching people take drugs. I've seen that through my mother and I believe it's not good for anybody," he said. "I've heard it from non-Indigenous people as well — that they've lost family members to addictions and it's just not a good thing. So we've got to do the proactive approach."
Kayla DeMong, executive director of Saskatchewan's only safe consumption site Prairie Harm Reduction, says the abstinence-based lifestyle is not a realistic option for everyone, so it's important to offer people opportunities to use drugs or alcohol in a safe way.
"There has to be some sort of gap fill between this idea of using and abstinence," DeMong said in an interview.
"I think what we're missing is the idea that there is a transition in between that, and that people, while they're still actively using, deserve supports and should be supported."