Watch above: new alternative care initiative for intoxicated individuals
SASKATOON – New statistics show that more publicly intoxicated people are being housed in the proper facilities overnight as opposed to Saskatoon police detention cells.
On Tuesday, the Saskatoon Action Accord released its latest data stemming from initiatives adopted three years ago when it comes to the care of intoxicated persons in detention.
On July 1, 2011, a pilot project funded by the Saskatchewan Health Region (SHR) was launched to enhance the safety of those brought into detention.
During 12-hour night shifts in 2013, primary care paramedic assessment services saw approximately 24 people a day.
Saskatoon police chief Clive Weighill says officers pick up some individuals as many as 80 times a year for public drunkenness.
“The game changer here is we now have a place that we can take people to house them with dignity rather than bringing them to the police detention cells,” said Weighill.
In January 2013, 80 per cent of those arrested for public intoxication were housed in detention.
Numbers dramatically decreased as 20 stabilization beds became available at the Saskatoon Lighthouse.
By December 2013, just over 50 per cent were in police cells, with the remainder referred to either the brief detoxification unit (BDU) or the Lighthouse as a safe, warm place to stay.
With the BDU often full, the chief says police were forced to take people back to detention.
In 2013, the number of those turned away from the BDU fell to five in December with the additional beds at the Lighthouse.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to get to know them, build relationships with them and have our case workers talk to them in the morning and provide resources to them,” said DeeAnn Mercier, with The Lighthouse Supported Living Inc.
Encouraged by last year’s outcome, the Lighthouse hopes to expand its hours from 16 to 24 hours a day and its stabilization unit to 37 beds by the time cold weather hits.
Already, police say they more are able to focus on other duties and avoid liability issues.
“It has happened in the past, we arrest people, we have no idea what they’ve ingested, they go to sleep in our detention area and they don’t wake up and we have a death in our cells so we’re hoping with the fewer people that we house, the better facilities to take people to we eliminate that risk as well,” said Weighill.
Members of the accord say while these results are significant, the next step must be a wellness center for the health region.
According to the chief, a wellness center will help those get the treatment they need immediately, reducing the chance of relapse.
On Tuesday, SHR announced it would be permanently funding the project.