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Inside The Perimeter

Writer and photographer Shannon VanRaes spends her days with the Manitoba Co-operator and her nights covering urban affairs in Winnipeg. Look for her in Metro every Tuesday.

VanRaes: The sobering reality of funding outreach programs

It's shocking that the Intoxicated Persons Detention Area at Winnipeg’s Main Street Project could be forced to partially close, writes Shannon VanRaes.

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen says three of the six ERs will close, leaving Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface and Grace Hospital to handle acute emergencies.

Contributed

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen says three of the six ERs will close, leaving Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface and Grace Hospital to handle acute emergencies.

In hindsight, letting an intoxicated stranger into our car was a mistake.

But after years of nightcrawling, both my partner and I knew what could happen to a disoriented or incapacitated individual in Winnipeg’s downtown. This strange man claiming to be from Saskatchewan, as belligerent as he was, could easily become a victim of robbery, assault, the elements or worse.

So seeing that no cab would take him and not wanting to bother law enforcement with yet another disturbance in the early hours of Sunday morning, we agreed to drive him back to his hotel. There was only one problem — he couldn’t remember what hotel he was staying at. 

He thought it might have green lights and was pretty sure his wife was going to kill him, but couldn’t tell us his own name and five minutes after we began driving loops — hoping he would recognize the no-doubt fine establishment he was lodged at — he began punching things.

Maybe it was luck, maybe it was divine intervention, but moments later the drunk Saskatchewanian cried out in joy, incoherently pointing to an establishment on Portage Avenue. He was promptly disgorged from our vehicle.

We were left with was an unpleasant odour, a strong sense of relief and a massive appreciation for the work done by emergency responders and social agencies that assist intoxicated individuals on a daily basis.

But now people who work with those under the influence, enforce the intoxicated person’s detention act or provide addictions outreach may have fewer resources at their disposal. After much speculation and layoffs of some part-time employees, the Intoxicated Persons Detention Area at Winnipeg’s Main Street Project — often referred to as the “drunk tank” — could be forced to close during daytime hours. According to media reports, it’s been operating with an annual shortfall of about $100,000 for the past seven years.

It’s a shocking revelation, not just because the Intoxicated Persons Detention Area is integral to ensuring public safety and connecting those struggling with addiction to resources, but because the news comes only a week after the provincial government announced it will close three of the city’s emergency rooms. Without the option of transporting people to the detention area a greater burden will no doubt be placed on emergency rooms as expensive hospital resources are diverted to individuals who, at that moment, just need a warm, safe place to sleep it off. Likewise, the already crowded Winnipeg Remand Centre could be placed under further stress as police are forced to take people into custody, rather than delivering them to a social services agency.

Neither the City of Winnipeg — which redirects funding to the organization — nor the provincial government have jumped to up to assist the Main Street Project. The deafening silence around the issue reveals a total lack of communication, an absence of concern for vulnerable community members and a total inability to understand how a compassionate and integrated health care system is also a fiscally responsible one. 

Simply put, properly funded outreach programs save police and health care institutions time and money, while also providing the non-criminalized support that actually helps to transform lives. And that is a sobering thought — one both the province and city need to consider.

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