Mission is reaching out to drug addicts

Re: Cracking open Ottawa's drug problem, April 23.

Columnist Kelly Egan laid out the facts very well in his column in the wake of the recent community meeting on the street drug problem. Except for one.

Mr. Egan points out that residential treatment for addicts are severely rationed. That is true. He adds that waiting lists for treatment can be in the hundreds. That may be true in some programs, but not at The Ottawa Mission.

The downtown homeless shelter now has a total of 220 beds but only 24 of those are designated for addiction services. Program managers at The Ottawa Mission realized there needed to be a partial shift away from residential addiction treatment to offer services to literally hundreds of people in the community suffering from addictions. They researched the Ottawa community and were unable to find any short-term outpatient programs that serve this population.

In February 2007, the addiction services team created and launched the day program, a one-year pilot project. It was to provide an opportunity for shelter residents and persons in need in the community with addictions to learn about and acquire new skills relating to addictions, mental health and overall health. The day program also targeted those people who have never had addiction treatment before, or never considered addiction treatment, or may have considered getting help for their addiction but struggled with motivation, remained ambivalent or were unaware of community resources.

There is no lengthy assessment or wait list for the day program -- people can just appear. The only rule is they must be sober or straight that day. After the drop-in group session, they are offered a chance to make a one-on-one appointment with an addictions counsellor and an opportunity to get a bed in the "dry wing" of The Ottawa Mission.

By offering out-patient or non-residential addiction services, we are reaching many more clients that suffer from the ravages of addiction and mental health. As of last month, the day program has had approximately 300 different individuals attend and groups have averaged 23 participants since inception. Furthermore, the drop-in counselling associated with the day program has also been well attended, averaging 50 counselling sessions per month.

And due to the success of the day program, The Ottawa Mission launched the evening program last year as well, six months after the start of the day program. The evening program is closing in on the statistical success of the day program averaging between 20 to 25 participants in groups and 30 counselling sessions monthly.

Mr. Egan states that Ottawa police are in the middle of the street-drug problem. I would argue so are Ottawa's homeless shelters and we need more help and resources to meet the need.

Troy Thompson, Ottawa

Addiction services manager

The Ottawa Mission, http://www.ottawamission.com/en/home.html
source: © The Ottawa Citizen 2008