November 20, 2014 - 2:36 PM
"THEY'RE NOT THROWAWAY PEOPLE."
PENTICTON - A young man leaves a detox centre in Kelowna and heads home to Penticton—a taxi ride, a bus ride and walk away. His body is rid of the alcohol it was so dependent on only a week ago; now’s an opportunity for him to start fresh, get a job and place to stay.
He finds a room to rent in a run-down motel that houses addicts, dealers and mentally ill people who are not getting any help for their problems. He has $30 left of his welfare cheque after he pays the month’s rent.
He can’t work because of health problems, and hasn’t had luck securing disability pension, so for now he relies on welfare to put a roof over his head. But with drug-pushers floating around this place that is now home, it’s only a matter of time before a bottle of whiskey or hit of a rock seems preferable than a roof over his head.
This situation may sound severe, but it’s daily life for hundreds of people in Penticton. Gerry Giberson, an addictions counsellor at the Ooknakane Friendship Centre in Penticton hears similar stories almost everyday when people walk into his office asking for help. But there’s only so much Giberson can do, since the closest detox centre is in Kelowna and almost always at capacity. There are also no low-barrier (shelters that take in people who have been using) homeless shelters in Penticton for homeless people with substance abuse problems.
“When people walk in the door they want help now, not in two to three weeks,” Giberson says. That’s how long it takes, on average, for a bed to free up at The Bridge detox centre in Kelowna.
Giberson will start an application process for the client but he warns them they will have to wait before they can get the help they need. So even though the forms have been signed and sent North, that addict will walk out the door, back onto the street looking for another fix, another drink because there is nowhere else to go, he says.
“Penticton needs a detox centre. End of story,” he says.
The same conclusion was made by a five-person jury after a coroner’s inquest was held at the Penticton Courthouse earlier this month for the death of Steven Joseph Scott, a 30-year-old man who died in police custody from alcohol withdrawal.
Doctors who testified during the inquest said patients who come into Emergency or are admitted to the Intensive Care Unit because of alcohol withdrawal are often back to living on the street and drinking again after being discharged.
“They don’t have anywhere else to go,” Giberson says. And sending them to a seedy motel is a step-up from the streets, but it’s not much better, he says.
Clients need to be referred to a treatment centre by an addictions worker, such as Giberson. If they are on welfare, the provincial government pays for their treatment, and they’re given a bus ticket to get them up to Kelowna for the treatment. But Giberson says it’s not enough.
A person who is going through alcohol withdrawal—the only type of substance withdrawal that is fatal—is shaking, and can barely get from point A to point B on his own, says Giberson.
When an individual gets on a bus, people stare, and he just sits there, shaking, trying to breathe properly. Then he’s expected to hail a taxi and direct the driver to the detox centre and check himself in, Giberson says. No help is provided until they arrive.
There needs to be more funding and more political will to help these people, he says.
“It’s hard not to feel angry about it,” he says. “They’re not throwaway people.”
Giberson meets once a week with other local social workers to discuss strategies and ways to improve the addiction, housing and job situations in Penticton that all contribute to the unfortunate lifestyles of many of their clients.
Other than working tirelessly, what can the group do? Make as much noise as possible, Giberson says.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Meaghan Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014