New policy improves safety by replacing sobriety requirement with code of conduct

Winnipeg’s largest homeless shelter announced today it is replacing its sobriety requirement with a new policy of behavioural-based entry.

The shift in strategy is aimed at improving safety and respect for all who visit, volunteer or work at Siloam Mission, and comes out of a commitment to best practices highlighted in the organization’s latest strategic plan.

“The intent behind this commitment was both to improve supports for those we serve, as well as to reduce violence and improve outcomes for people experiencing homelessness,” says CEO Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud.

“We know that people using substances do so as a response to trauma in their lives. This can lead to an addiction or the addiction can bring more trauma. Offering these essential services to folks who are using is a part of reducing the stigma they experience and the shame they can experience, both of which reduce their capacity to seek help and start their recovery journey.”

With the guidance of external consulting firm Momenta, Siloam engaged with community members, staff and best practice research to develop a set of behavioural expectations to replace its prior requirement of sobriety.

The three behavioural expectations in Siloam Mission’s new policy are:
– We are Safe
– We are Respectful
– We are Focused on Needs

The organization began gradually implementing this change in policy over the last year, and has now fully adopted the practice of behavioural-based entry, including restorative practices for when a person breaches the behaviour guidelines and needs to take a break from services.

“It becomes impractical and unfair to make sobriety required when someone who is sober can have aggressive behaviour, while someone who is using substances can be kind, helpful and loving to others in our space,” says Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud.

“We have already seen a reduction in violent incidents, an increase in communication between our staff and community members, more opportunities for supporting someone with the restorative model, and an increase in team morale as we are able to meet more people’s needs in a better way.”

Siloam Mission is a Christian-based non-profit service organization for Manitobans who have experienced homelessness and who struggle with mental health issues, physical and cognitive disabilities, addictions or trauma, and youth who have aged out of care and are at risk of homelessness. Founded in 1987, the mission provides emergency shelter, meals and clothing, supportive housing and a variety of healing, support and recovery services to help people transform their own lives and reach their full potential.