Siloam Mission lifts sobriety rule to access services


Advertise with us

Winnipeggers who use shelters have lauded one of the city’s largest such facilities for scrapping the requirement that users be sober.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

Winnipeggers who use shelters have lauded one of the city’s largest such facilities for scrapping the requirement that users be sober.

Siloam Mission announced Friday it switched to a new policy of behavioural-based entry.

In a release, it said staff found that requiring sobriety was impractical and unfair because someone who is sober can be aggressive, while someone who is using substances can be kind, helpful and respectful.

                                <p>Lloyd Larson and Amanda Cure hang out in front of Siloam Mission.</p>


Lloyd Larson and Amanda Cure hang out in front of Siloam Mission.

Speaking from outside the Christian organization’s 300 Princess Ave. location, patrons voiced support for the decision, which has been months in the making.

“It should be more about your attitude (and less about an addiction) because you’re always going to have that problem and that’s something you have to deal with personally. As long as you’re moving forward and being positive, you should (be allowed to use it)… Otherwise, nobody would be allowed in,” said Lloyd Larson.

Larson, who has been using Siloam Mission for a few months, called the sobriety requirement“silly” and prohibitive. He said its removal may help improve outcomes for people who would otherwise be prevented from accessing services, he said.

Amanda Cure, Larson’s friend and fellow Siloam patron, has used the shelter on and off for several years. Through her connections with it and other social organizations in the city, she was able to secure permanent housing in December.

She continues to go to the centre for various supports.

“Everyone has their own story, their own life and their own issues as well,” she said. “I wouldn’t eat every day if it wasn’t for them, and staff are pretty helpful if you do go to them for any kind of resources.”

Siloam Mission’s policy change followed the hiring of CEO Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud 16 months ago.

The change is part of the organization’s new strategic plan.

“I think we’ve evolved,” Blaikie Whitecloud said Friday.

“I think there was a lot of people here who were championing this change internally and there’d been conversations about this for a long time,” she said. “It’s pretty hard to ensure that someone who’s been using doesn’t get in the building… You need a more clear behavioural code of conduct.”

With the help of consulting firm Momenta, Siloam engaged with community members, staff, volunteers and best-practice research to develop behavioural expectations that include helping people get their needs met safely and respectfully.

The shift in strategy is aimed at improving safety and respect for all who visit, volunteer or work, says Siloam, which serves an estimated 600 meals a day and has 143 shelter beds.

The mission gradually implemented the new policy over the last year and has now fully adopted it along with “restorative practices” for when a person breaches the behaviour guidelines.

Breaches, for example, include engaging in unsafe behaviour towards themselves or others and engaging with others’ belongings without their consent. When situations begin to escalate, staff will approach and offer them “a safe, respectful option,” Blaikie Whitecloud said.

People who continue to be defiant or disruptive are asked to leave Siloam, but are able to come back later and take part in the restorative process.

The updated policy aligns with best practices to reduce violence and increase the capacity to support people, she said.

                                <p>Siloam Mission has lifted its sobriety requirement.</p>


Siloam Mission has lifted its sobriety requirement.

Offering services regardless of sobriety reduces the stigma and shame people can experience, possibly encouraging them to seek help and start their recovery journey, Siloam says.

The organization supports supervised consumption sites and has performed more than 80 drug poisoning reversals in the last calendar year.

People have used substances outside the mission, then entered the building to make sure they’re in a safe place with someone who can administer naloxone — medication used to reverse or reduce the effects of opioids — or call paramedics, Blaikie Whitecloud said.

“They know if they have a drug poisoning experience, that they will get support,” she said.

“In the absence of a safe consumption site, we are sort of one.”

Salvation Army, also a Christian organization, lifted its sobriety requirement nearly a decade ago.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Mark Stewart, executive director of the Salvation Army Centre Of Hope at 180 Henry Ave.

In 2015, the Salvation Army introduced new rules for admission based on behavioural standards, and not on absolute sobriety. When applying the rules, staff will “err on the side of compassion, think in the grey — as opposed to black and white, put relationships over rules, and listen with ears of learning, not ears of judgment,” the 35-page operating principles document says.

Lifting the sobriety requirement saves lives and helps to develop lasting relationships with the people they serve and better support them, Stewart said.

End Homelessness Winnipeg endorsed Siloam’s updated policy in a statement Friday.

“This change in policy will help those experiencing homelessness by offering a new point of service that might not have been available under the previous policy,” it said.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.


Updated on Friday, March 31, 2023 8:41 PM CDT: Corrects spelling of Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us