Creating Opportunities for a happier life
“[In the shelter] I was drinking way too much. I almost died three times. I’m decreasing my drinking here and thinking of stopping altogether,” says Elijah, a resident of The Oaks in Ottawa, Ontario.
Through partnerships with Shepherds of Good Hope, Ottawa Inner City Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association, The Oaks in Ottawa, Ontario, developed an innovative model that enables people like Elijah who deal with alcohol dependency, as well as people with mental health challenges, to stay housed and rebuild their lives.
The model came out of a desire to create opportunities for a happier life for people dealing with these challenges and a way to “break with demons from the past and create new, positive memories.” By offering a safe place to call home paired with a Managed Alcohol Program (MAP), The Oaks gives residents an opportunity to be stably and securely housed while reducing harm to themselves and being a part of a community.
The MAP program recognizes the continuing role alcohol may play in the lives of shelter residents, and enables them to drink with less harm to themselves and less strain on public services. Alcohol is treated as a medication, with a trained staff person serving tailored amounts to program participants throughout the day. At The Oaks, the wine is made on-site to help reduce costs.
The program was originally offered to shelter residents by Shepherds of Good Hope, who partnered with The Oaks after participants expressed a longing to live in a ‘regular’ home. Now, The Oaks meets both the need for the program and the need for a home, operating one renovated hotel with 36 units and several communal spaces, and a second building of 19 bachelor apartments. Nurses and Client Care Workers are on-site for support, and there is also a mental health nurse, psychiatrist, internist and nurse practitioner available when needed.
Many of the residents have flourished within the program. A 10-year evaluation found that per-person alcohol consumption decreased by over 30 per cent, and mental and physical health improved. Research also showed that the public saved over three dollars for every one dollar spent on the program via reduced policing and emergency room costs.
Because they now have a safe space to call home, many of residents at The Oaks are finding meaningful connections within their community and developing hobbies and skillsets. One resident reflects: “I never used to draw before. My drawings are mostly of arctic animals and when I do these drawings, I’m at home.”
The Oaks has been featured as part of ONPHA’s Innovations in Housing Stability, developed with funding support from the Province of Ontario. To read more about The Oaks, including details on their development process, partnerships and funding, visit onpha.on.ca/housing-stability/oaks-ottawa.
Interested in adapting a similar model in your community? Be sure to check out the Additional Resources section for helpful tools and information.