New sobering beds to keep people out of jail

Duncan will soon be getting four to six sobering beds for those dealing with alcohol and drug abuse.

Duncan will soon be getting four to six sobering beds for those dealing with alcohol and drug abuse.

These will be the first substance use sobering beds in the Cowichan Valley, the result of collaboration between provincial health bodies, Island Health, law enforcement and community agencies.

“It provides a safe place for those that otherwise could not access community services like a shelter,” explained Island Health Mental Health and Substance Use Project Manager Shana Hall. “What’s different between a shelter and a sobering assessment program is that you can be intoxicated and still be supported in a sobering assessment program, because the staffing model allows for that person to be safe. A shelter is unable to do that and would have to turn that person away.”

Island Health issued a request for proposal on March 23 to search for an owner and operator for the new community-based sobering and assessment program. The RFP closes in five weeks. The four to six sobering beds will be available for people aged 17 and up to access for up to 24 hours when experiencing intoxication due to drug or alcohol use.

This expansion of services was made possible by the province and health authorities working with the not-for-profit sector to fund 500 substance use beds in B.C.

“Of those 500 beds, Island Health was allocated 93 beds. The next task became where across the Island would those 93 beds be distributed. So based on various levels of analysis and community consultation and stakeholders across the community the number of beds were determined,” Hall said.

Spearheaded by Our Cowichan Communities Health Network, discussions took place between representatives from the Cowichan Valley Regional District, Island Health, RCMP, Cowichan Tribes and other community partners who formed a task force.

“In the interim, from the original consultation process we learned in Cowichan that a task force came together and it was through the advocacy of the group that it [bed count] was increased from two beds to four to six beds. I think that was important because it was the community that advocated and won that,” Hall said. “That re-consultation process led by the task force with Island Health as a member, concluded there was a greater need.”

This conclusion, in part, was spurred by a coroner’s report requesting increased sobering and detox services, according to Hall.

North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP said intoxicated behaviour from those consuming alcohol is the most common substance problem police face.

“The substance that we seem to deal with more often than any other is alcohol,” said spokeswoman Cpl. Krista Hobday. “We’re kind of like a safety net. If there are no beds available at the hospital or if they’re too intoxicated to be treated. If there’s no resources through family or Island Health then we become the last resort and we house them, literally, until they’re sober enough to care for themselves.”

The location of the sobering beds is still to be determined based on proposals received. The program will be staffed 24 hours per day, every day of the year and the successful bidder will work closely with community partners including Island Health to ensure clients can easily connect with more outreach, substance use supports, social and housing services as needed.

The new beds and program are expected to be operational in late 2016, according to Island Health.

“This is a good news opportunity for Cowichan to receive new beds,” Hall said. “We’re really pleased to announce this, and it was through that community partnership that we were able to come together and get these beds in Cowichan.”

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