Supportive housing, food and alcohol to homeless people with “severe and chronic alcohol dependencies” shows health and safety benefits with reduced police confrontations and hospital visits, according to study by the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research (CARBC).

“Prolonged, heavy alcohol use increases the risk of numerous physical diseases while episodes of intoxication increase risk of self-inflicted and accidental injuries,” said CARBC. 

“In this population such problems are especially prevalent and, as well, may be compounded by the use of non-beverage sources alcohol such as rubbing alcohol, mouthwash, hair spray or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.”

Shelter House opened a MAP (the Kwae Kii Win Centre) in Thunder Bay, Ontario, in March 2012. 

It provides 15 beds for men and women with severe alcohol dependence who have been living outside or in emergency shelters and have a high rate of police contact.

“We needed a different response in our community to chronic problems of alcohol and homelessness,” said Patty Hajdu, executive director of Shelter House. 

“Shelter House recognized that abstinence-based housing and treatment did not meet the needs of some people, and our organization took the lead on providing an alternative.” 

UVic nursing researcher and report co-author Dr. Bernie Pauly said, “All of the MAP participants successfully maintained their housing and had improved health outcomes.” 

In-depth interviews were conducted with staff and MAP participants over a six-month period. Data was also collected over a five-year period on “police contacts” and “health-care episodes.” 

All 38 research participants identified as being Aboriginal with an average age of 42 years.

“All the MAP participants expressed that participation in the MAP program was beneficial to them and had positive impacts on their lives,” said CARBC. 

“In particular, they highlighted that the program gave them access to housing, home, health and hope.”

The research is part of a larger national CARBC-led study of MAPs in Canada funded principally by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Michael Smith Foundation. 

“MAPs were created to provide a more compassionate response to the problems of severe alcohol dependence and intoxication for people who are at increased risk of injury and complications related to untreated chronic illness, and who do not have other housing or treatment options,” said CARBC. 

“In a MAP, small doses of alcohol are dispensed to participants at regular intervals to replace non-beverage alcohol — mouthwash, hand-sanitizer, hairspray — with less harmful alcohol. Research has shown that supportive housing alone provides health benefits and reduces alcohol consumption, and MAPs take this one step further by providing safe sources of alcohol onsite.”

Towards Alcohol Harm Reduction: Preliminary Results from an Evaluation of a Canadian Managed Alcohol Program was prepared for Kwae Kii Win Centre Alcohol Management Program by the Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria, B.C., Canada.

“The study showed positive results for MAP participants: a reduction in police contacts, hospital admissions and detox admissions in the range of 40 to 80 per cent,” says CARBC director and psychologist Dr. Tim Stockwell, the study’s co-author. 

“It provides evidence that harm-reduction approaches to homelessness and chronic alcoholism are good for communities and they make economic sense.”

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.