The man was a regular in the Abbotsford Police Department’s jails.
A chronic alcoholic without a home, he had been in and out of cells for years for public intoxication.
Over four years, he had 400 separate interactions with police. Not all of those ended up with him in jail, but many did; in mid-November, he awoke once again from another drunken sleep in cells and prepared to head out onto the streets.
First, though, the man had a chat with Sgt. Colin Wiebe, the sergeant in charge of the APD jail.
Frustrating day. One of the reg. drunks wants detox & is ready to go but can’t get in the door for at least 11 days #SystemFail
— Sgt. Colin Wiebe APD (@Wiebeler) November 20, 2016
He was tired, the man told Wiebe. He was ready to stop drinking.
But the breakthrough came with a catch. When Wiebe called local detox centres, he was told they wouldn’t take a referral from the police. First the man needed to see a doctor. He was able to get an appointment, but it would be 11 days until their meeting.
The man was addicted and had no supports yet, and so he still got drunk over the next week and a half. But 11 days later, when another police officer came to take him to his appointment, the man was ready.
“He maintained his desire to get clean, even while still getting drunk,” Wiebe said. “I was ecstatic that we got him to the appointment.”
From there, he received a referral to a rehab centre – and another wait.
— Sgt. Colin Wiebe APD (@Wiebeler) December 1, 2016
The man had eight more days to change his mind, but earlier this week he checked into a rehab clinic.
The man’s story echoes service workers’ complaints that it takes too long for someone who has expressed a desire to kick their addiction to actually get help. In October, council heard that men and women addicted to drugs who want help frequently face weeks of delay before being able to access treatment help.
Wiebe says police jail cells can end up housing people who need actual help.
“If we had a medically supported sobering centre in town, that would be great.”
Such a facility would have health care professionals who are ready to provide immediate help and support for people who want to get clean immediately.
“A jail just isn’t the place to do that,” he said. “We become a place of last resort for a lot of people.”
That is frustrating, but while stats suggest that it takes many people multiple tries to get clean, Wiebe is optimistic about the chances for the man he helped recently.
“I sure hope this is the key to him,” he said. While just trying can be considered a small success, Wiebe said, “I’m hopeful we have a big success here.”
Success! Our street friend made it to Detox this AM. Thx to my @AbbyPoliceDept brothers & sisters for making it happen!
— Sgt. Colin Wiebe APD (@Wiebeler) December 7, 2016