Cold Weather Pilot Project: Emergency services for homeless and street-involved people with addictions

In brief

In late summer, Thunder Bay’s Shelter House saw an increased use of services by homeless individuals. The Executive Director, Patty Hajdu, thought ahead to the chilling temperatures that winter would likely bring. If the shelter’s 62 beds were filled in warmer months, what would be the demand for shelter when the cold weather set in?

The idea she came up with, thanks to discussions with numerous partners, was Shelter House and the Cold Water Pilot Project. This pilot project has a unique advantage — its staff members have pre-existing relationships with the homeless community and other community partners.

In this edition of Promising Practices series, EENet’s Kim Karioja looks at the Cold Water Pilot Project, which is bringing emergency services to Thunder Bay’s homeless and street-involved people with addictions. Click below to read the full story.

Promising Practices profiles innovative practices and initiatives from around Ontario.

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In late summer, Thunder Bay’s Shelter House saw an increased use of services by homeless individuals. The Executive Director, Patty Hajdu, thought ahead to the chilling temperatures that winter would likely bring. If the shelter’s 62 beds were filled in warmer months, what would be the demand for shelter when the cold weather set in?

Calgary’s DOAP Team

The Shelter House pilot project is modeled on Calgary’s Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) program. DOAP was created as a partnership between Alpha House and the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS) and in consultation with city officials as well as police and emergency medical services (EMS). The program originated in response to the high demand for inner city emergency services among homeless and street involved people with addictions.

DOAP redirects clients to appropriate services such as detox, treatment, and housing. The team consists of four full-time and two part-time staff members who provide outreach and case management services. They also offer harm reduction supplies to prevent communicable diseases. A CUPS nurse also works on hospital discharge services and medical follow-up.

In 2009-2010 Alpha House calculated the social value created by the DOAP team for all of its clients at $1.18 million. Indicators in the calculation included reduced police and EMS attendance at call outs, reduced use of hospital emergency rooms, fewer returns to hospital, and lower incidence of hepatitis C or HIV.

Thunder Bay’s Cold Weather Pilot Project

Shelter House’s Patty Hajdu approached the Thunder Bay City Manager to discuss ways to alleviate the bottleneck caused by the lack of transportation services specifically between shelters and medical services such as withdrawal management services and emergency rooms. She also asked Kathy Christiansen, Executive Director at Alpha House, to provide a presentation to the Thunder Bay Withdrawal Management Steering Committee about the DOAP team and the outcomes the team realizes through their work.

Shelter House – like Alpha House – has a unique advantage in that its staff members have pre-existing relationships with the homeless community and other community partners. Its Board of Directors backed the Cold Weather Pilot Project, and the organization sought financial support from the City of Thunder Bay (which is under deliberation until February).

The project began with monthly meetings between Shelter House and Salvation Army. Both organizations work with homeless clientele. The Cold Weather Pilot Project has three components: improve communication between Shelter House and the Salvation Army; Street Outreach Services (SOS); and Day Services for people who are publicly intoxicated. The SOS program was launched on December 27, 2013. The program has a mobile van that goes looking for homeless people in well-known gathering areas. Staff offer to bring people to a warm location or provide hot beverages and other amenities. At the end of December, Shelter House initiated the Day Services program that offers a place to warm up, rest, and access food in a respectful, client-centred, non-confrontational setting.

Liability can be a concern for agencies that offer this type of service. To reduce the likelihood of an incidence Shelter House conducted several risk assessments and consulted the Ministry of Labour. The also looked at the risks associated with working alone, using a mobile vehicle, and patrolling high-crime areas. Solutions that mitigated liability included using a GPS tracker, providing thorough training, providing staff with a long-range radio, and having staff carry smartphones that have a regular check-in app (SafetyLine). Staff were trained in de-escalation techniques, and withdrawal protocols, and were given an overview of services from Thunder Bay Police, EMS, and Balmoral Centre withdrawal management program.

Two outreach workers work 12-hour shifts from 2:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. and provide a response to homeless individuals who are not medically compromised or presenting with violence issues. Businesses and citizens are also encouraged to call the team. Between calls and transfers, outreach workers sweep known encampment areas to offer their services.

In the first week of operations, with temperatures bottoming out at -35ºC staff transported 70 individuals to facilities that included shelters, withdrawal management services, and family members’ homes.

The pilot project is now being evaluated and a report will be provided to Thunder Bay city council and the community on June 15, 2014.

For more information contact Patty Hajdu at patricia [dot] hajdu [at] shelterhouse [dot] on [dot] ca

Author: Kim Karioja

 

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